Skip to Main Content

Why your child needs to take risks

Taking risks helps children and young people discover passion, perseverance and purpose

NEWS 14 Sept 2022

It might be as simple as getting on a bike for the first time and having the courage to shakily pedal a few metres. Or it might be stepping on to a sports field to play a new sport.

Standing up to speak in front of an audience, or going to a social event where you know nobody but go anyway…these all require a person to step up and take a risk.

In some cases, and perhaps particularly for parents of adolescents and teenagers, the word ‘risk’ conjures up negative connotations and, of course, not all risks are worth taking. But in the lives of children and young people, taking some risks is key to helping them learn about choices, decisions, responsibility and consequences.

“Taking risks helps young people find their passion in life. If they don’t try anything new, they don’t know what they like and don’t like.”
Diane Furusho, Haileybury’s Deputy Principal Student Wellbeing.

“It also teaches them that when they do something new, they won’t get it right the first time, but then they learn the importance of practice and perseverance. It can be challenging for parents to let their children take risks but it’s part of our role, as parents, to teach our children to take risks and to support them when they do that.”

So how can parents support risk-taking and help their children learn from the experiences and consequences that are part and parcel of that process?

Here are 10 ways parents can support children.

  1. Understand that children and young people need to take risks. “Teenagers will push the boundaries and create chaos sometimes – expect that,” says Maria Bailey, Haileybury Director of Counselling Services. “It’s part of the natural developmental journey that helps young people become independent, learn to problem solve, understand their moral compass and make choices. It’s an essential part of a young person’s development and your child will learn a lot about themselves in the process.”
  2. Learn about the how a young person’s brain grows and matures – so much brain remodelling happens during adolescence and continues until the mid-20s. Parts of the brain associated with thrill seeking and risk taking are prominent and the parts of the brain involved with reasoning and impulse control are still developing. So read useful resources about brain development so you can better understand what is happening inside your own child’s brain.
  3. “If children are nervous to try something new, recognise there is a risk that they won’t get things right first time and reassure them that is OK,” says Diane.
  4. Have a conversation about the pros and cons of the risk. “For example, if you have a Year 12 student going to Schoolies, talk through the positives of going and also the challenges and possible dangers. Let your child know you are there to support them and if they understand there are risks and know what could go wrong, some of the fear in a situation can be removed,” says Diane.
  5. Maria recommends encouraging children to pause and think about the risk before they act. “Get them to think about whether it is good for them or not. Give them space to think about it and they might then decide to step away,” she says.
  6. Encourage positive risk-taking behaviour and find opportunities for healthy risks to be taken in school, sports, the community and through extra-curricular activities. So encourage your child to be part of the school play, to volunteer, play sport or to get involved in a cause that matters to them.
  7. The other side of the coin is that it’s a parent’s job to keep children safe and, for teenagers particularly, there will be ‘stop’ moments, says Maria. “Safety trumps everything. There will be risk situations where you have to say ‘this is not OK’” she says. “There need to be conversations, boundaries and a discussion about what is happening and how it impacts them and their relationship with people around them.”
  8. The art of parenting involves knowing when it’s time to step in while not being a vacuum parent who follows up behind their child picking up the mess and fallout from their mistake. When children take a risk and it doesn’t work out, be supportive but let them learn from the consequences.
  9. “Give examples of where your child has failed in the past and got back up. If a parent says ‘when I did this and this happened and I did that and that’…the child doesn’t care. Keep it about your child and recall experiences they’ve had where they took a risk, it didn’t pay off and they got back up again,” says Diane.
  10. Be mindful of the language you use with your young person. “We often tell our children how wonderful and brilliant they are. However, when they take a risk and it doesn’t go the way they want, they feel they have failed,” says Diane. “Remind them that you admire the wonderful risk they took and remind them of what they learnt from that. Keep reinforcing to children that when they take a risk and fail, that’s OK.”