As parents, we instinctually want to protect our children from both physical and emotional harm. While making them come down from the top of the jungle gym or speaking on their behalf when a friend is being unkind may give us the semblance of control, total protection is both impossible and detrimental. In trying to protect our kids from harm, we inadvertently harm them!

Daily challenges help children become self-sufficient and give them the tools to cope with failure. Instead of raising kids who hesitate for fear of misstep or injury, child psychologists recommend teaching our kids how to take measured risks. A kid who takes risks becomes an adult with a firm sense of self.

Whether your child innately seeks or avoids risks, these tips will help them realize their full potential.

  1. Make sure they know “perfect” is an illusion—Social media makes it very tough for kids to avoid comparison. The selfie culture dictates that to be worthy, they must be perfect. Perfection and the associated fear of failure is the enemy of risk. Continuously remind your kids that what they see is a curated, filtered version of a much more colored reality. Encourage them to focus less on appearance and approval and more on areas that cannot be easily quantified with “likes” (e.g., meaningful friendships, contributions to the community, hard work on the basketball court, etc.). Tell them weekly what you are grateful for. When they can recognize what they have instead of what they do not, they’ll feel more secure. Secure kids take risks because they aren’t afraid that a single failure will ruin their reputation.
  2. Find the lesson—When your child takes a risk that results in an unsatisfactory ending, help them find the useable data. Once your kid can see their misstep as a tool to use for future challenges, they’ll likely shift their thinking from what they lost to what they gained.
  3. Teach worst-case-scenario planning—Entrepreneur Mel Abraham tells his mentees to write down everything that could go wrong with a particular risk. Then he asks them to talk through solutions for each scenario. Doing so makes each risk feel less intimidating. If your child is risk-averse, this type of planning can help them overcome indecision. If your kid is a natural risk taker, you can use this process to weigh consequences without discouraging the action.
  4. Help them take STOP breaks—Everyone has an inner voice. Unfortunately, the voice often plays the role of critic. Your child’s inner voice may be reminding them of their past failures or perceived shortcomings. This negative self-talk lowers confidence and, in turn, discourages risk-taking. When your child is headed down a self-limiting path, happiness expert Petra Kolber suggests teaching them to STOP: Stand up, Take a walk, Observe their surroundings, Pick a positive thought. Over time, you can help children notice their own triggers and redirect their focus from past missteps to present reality.
  5. Do some self-reflection—Your children pay attention to not only what you say but also what you do. Make sure you are modeling the behavior you’d like to instill. Don’t just tell them to be bold and brave. Show them what it looks like to be bold and brave by taking risks yourself. And while you may want to discourage them from biking to school by themselves or auditioning for the talent show, let them risk failure. Don’t allow your discomfort to become their insecurity. Close your eyes, plug your ears, and tell your inner voice that sometimes what’s best for our children isn’t always what’s immediately safest for our children.

Photo credit: Filios Sazeides, Unsplash