Encouraging Children to Assess Risks

It’s Health and Safety gone mad.
At least that was the predicable reaction in a recent magazine article to the news that pre-school children as young as three are being given clipboards, builders hats and hi-viz tabards, and encouraged to spot the dangers in and around their nursery.
On the contrary, I think it’s a brilliant idea (and a quick google showed that other nurseries are already doing it).
Giving children responsibility and encouraging them to problem-solve and think for themselves, rather than simply telling them what to do (often over and over again with no apparent result)  is always going to be a win-win situation for adults and children.
I recently worked with a parent whose family referred to her as ‘Heath and Safety Mum’ because, they thought she was obsessed with what might go wrong. In fact, she was simply taking responsibility for everyday risk assessment because no one else, including her husband, ever did. As a result she spent every day out and holiday nagging at her children, they stopped listening, and no-one enjoyed themselves, least of all her.
I suggested that perhaps she should tell her family how she felt, something like: “I don’t like nagging you but I’m frightened that you are going to get hurt.”  Then she could let them identify the possible dangers and come up with solutions that would reassure everyone.  She was a bit doubtful but prepared to give it a try.
At our next session she was thrilled. The day before a trip to a country park the children had identified that the appearance of occasional cars on the otherwise quiet road was the main problem and that when this happened they would all shout to warn each other and stand on the right.  As this didn’t happen very often, they were free to whizz down the road on a skate board which was such fun that before long their mother joined in too.
The result of such a simple action was nothing short of miraculous. The woman had stopped being an annoying nag who no-one listened to, and simply become what she had been all along – a caring mother who loved her children and didn’t want to see them get hurt. The children had taken responsibility, assessed the risks and come up with practical solutions. Everyone was happy. Most important of all their mother had shown that she trusted them.
When you think about it, risk assessment is what we all do, all the time in our daily lives (unless we are very stupid), and it’s something that children used to have far more experience of when they were allowed to play outside in the streets and parks.
And who doesn’t love a builder’s hat and a hi-viz tabard? Bring on those clipboards and let your children start learning about how to cope with the world around them.

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