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21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

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Friday, 1 December 2017

How we support children to take healthy emotional risks

Risk taking is a huge part of what we do at Mairtown, in fact this topic has been previously blogged, however recently my focus has been on supporting children to take healthy emotional risks.

When I was studying to become a teacher I used to think that risk taking was something thrill seekers do, or is someone who is totally fearless.  Actually risk encompasses much more, including physical, emotional and social, what is really important is helping children to learn and identify what are healthy risks and what are unhealthy risks.

At Mairtown kindergarten we are passionate about providing children with a rich learning environment that offers plenty of opportunities to take responsible risks and I believe it’s wonderful for children to discover and learn for themselves what their comfort levels are as it is different for everyone. 

Being able to take an emotional risk requires children to move beyond their comfort zone and push through that funny feeling in their tummy or for others they may feel worried to take that big step forward to speak in front of their peers or take that first step to put pen to paper.

“Being a healthy emotional risk taker enables you to embrace and grow in your life right now”.  (Shakti Sutriasa, 2016).

Those who know me, know how passionate I am about setting up challenging obstacle courses, knowing it might be a bit tricky.  I love to support and encourage children to take a risk, not only physical but emotional as well.  Within our daily practice there are many emotional risk taking scenarios that our children face, for example; feeling brave to ask a peer to play, to help a friend in need, express gratitude and appreciation to others, choosing to be brave to sit with a different peer at the kai tables or being asked to be our ‘kaia’ to lead our morning waiata or to put their hand up to ask a question or taking on a role where they are at the centre of attention and all the focus is on them. It is these opportunities that offer children meaningful lifelong learning that they will carry in their kete of knowledge throughout life.  

There is plenty of research that supports children learning to take risks, Davis and Eppler-Wolff state that Risks – good and bad – are inevitable from birth. Yet, many of us haven’t given much thought to the ways in which risk unfolds. With a toddler’s first step, he is taking the risk of stepping out into the world – literally and figuratively. When a preschooler enters his new class of teachers and children for the first time, he is taking the risks inherent in separating from the only caretakers he’s known. A shy first grader who raises her hand in class to ask a question takes the risk of appearing stupid in front of her peers. She risks feeling embarrassed, or inadequate. Yet her raised hand allows her to take a risk that leads to feelings of self-assertion and self-expression.  (Susan Davis, Ph.D., and Nancy Eppler-Wolff, Ph.D., 2009)

To develop emotional risk taking skills requires children to be confident within themselves and their abilities, to be able to think through problems that they may face and to be able to think positively, also known as a ‘positive growth mind set’.  This is particularly useful in those times when children are finding courage to be brave.  As children learn and develop their skills of taking emotional risks, this results in children who have more resilience and are able to deal with the disappointment that life sometimes has, including having to wait for a swing to be free, or not being chosen to have a turn, for instance, in a game, at that very moment.

Life is all about choices, there are good choices and bad choices, learning to make good choices I believe is vital for all children to learn.  There has been lots of talk at kindergarten about what a good choice is and what a bad choice is, I believe it is never too early to learn such valuable life long skills.  Developing resilience is an extremely useful skill when learning to take emotional risks, this is supported by research that states “Resilience is the ability to steer through serious life challenges and find ways to bounce back and to thrive.  We are born with the capacity for resilience.  But resilience is not something we have or don’t have.  We work on it throughout our lives.  And need to start as early as possible.  Resilience makes a big difference in people’s lives.  People who respond to hardships with resilience are; healthier and live longer, happier in their relationships, more successful in school and work, and less likely to get depressed”.  (Best Start, Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program, 2012).

At Mairtown we are passionate about providing an environment that allows children plenty of opportunities to be exposed to risk, whether it be physical, emotional, or social.  There is an element of risk in everyday life, this is why I believe it is important for all children to learn the vital skills of risk taking where they are confident in their abilities to assess any potential dangers and be able to spend time to pause and think through what their actions maybe.  As our children leave kindergarten to move onto their next learning journey and throughout the rest of their lives, it is important that they are equipped to be successful learners that can take thoughtful, smart risks and then they will be ready to soar.

Our job is not to inoculate our children against taking risks, but to guide them toward taking good risks. (Susan Davis, Ph.D., and Nancy Eppler-Wolff, Ph.D., 2009)

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