186. Taking Risks

I’ve often heard it said that we should be encouraging children to take risks. To me, there are three categories of risks – health risks, physical risks, and personal risks – and I’ve usually shied away from the first two and been fairly “brave” about the third. I would much rather have my foot in my mouth than in a cast.
I think most of us agree that health risks are good things to avoid. We don’t want children to eat, drink, or inhale things that could be harmful to their health. Some of us are more fanatic about that than others, and there is lots of disagreement even among us fanatics: is dairy good for people? Should people be eating meat? But the people I know who become aware that their children’s (and their own) health is at risk try to minimize that risk.
Then there are the physical risks. I’ve heard the propaganda about grabbing all the gusto you can. You only live once, they say. People have tried to get me to try diving from the high board. I’ve been afraid of getting hurt, or drowning. I have absolutely no regrets about not taking that kind of risk. I’ve never broken a bone and had a cast. I’ve consciously avoided getting physically hurt. Other people can have my share of that kind of gusto. I don’t want to live on the edge; I get enough enjoyment away from the edge.
I realize that my wimpiness about physical risks is not something I’m supposed to encourage in children, but if it’s all right with you, I’d rather have someone else watch them take physical risks. I don’t want them to break their legs, etc., and if I stayed to watch, I’m sure some would pick up my attitude.
Personal risks don’t seem as much like risks to me. I guess I put quotes around “brave” in the first paragraph because personal risks hardly phase me. Bravery is supposed to be about facing fears, and I haven’t been afraid to say things. If anything, I’ve been kind of reckless, and had to learn, over the years, to be a little cautious.
I know how to get children to take that kind of risk. They have to feel safe, and know that their feelings will be respected. When they’re sure about that, they are quite happy to take risks. Children with stage fright are more willing to perform on stage if they know their fear is respected. They’ll give a tentative answer to a question if they know tentative answers are okay – that mistakes are honored as learning tools.
I know we only live once. To me, though, that’s one more time than I’ve ever lived before, and I’m going to keep grabbing my kind of gusto. And a big part of that is helping children grab some, too.

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