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Working with Risk... Creating courageous kids

Risk is a process of stretching…of going beynd what is usually given. It takes commitment and courage. It is a considered decision to ‘stretch’ outside the comfort zone and usually creates some degree of discomfort.

Emotional risk is different than practical risk. Many people/children can extend themselves into a rough sport or a rollercoaster, shy away from being vulnerable. Emotional risk is about knowing the feeling of discomfort in a task/situation and committing to it anyway. The decision to continue is based on two things – the value of what will be gained or learnt, and the strength achieved from persisting even though it is uncomfortable.

Those with a more black and white view of life can struggle with risk. Their sense of duality – things being right OR wrong, good OR bad, reduces the potential ‘grey’ zone and levels of competency or levels of comfort. Taking the small steps and stages necessary to move from feeling ‘ok’ to managing the feeling of being ‘not ok’ is less easy for those with this mindset. And a sense of challenge is necessary more than encouragment – consciously using ‘brave’.

Humans build reslience through following through on tough choices. When we do things that are hard our sense of being able to manage what is tough increases. This decreases the fear or anxiety about not being able to cope well. It produces a ‘can do’ attitude.

Emotional risk produces tricky thoughts and feelings. It appears when we feel, or mightfeel LESS – less capable, less right, less included, less safe, less comfortable, less enjoyable, less successful, less secure – for any reason. The thoughts that come along with this are ‘I don't want to’, ‘I don't think I can do that’, ‘I’ll make mistakes’, ‘its too hard’, ‘I will mess up’, ‘I’ll feel stupid’, etc.

In particular doing things where we feel judged, or judge ourselves, is tough. Being self conscious about what others think of us, or having a strong inner critic, compromises our status or security and we tend towards over-riding our natural potential to be bigger, and stay small to ‘fit in’ with others or to avoid standing out in any less successful way.

So to extend risk it is useful to work with process rather than outcome– to put attention on how todo things (trying with a start point of courage, doing a bit, maybe even doing it badly at first, and having a sense of being able to build) rather than on ‘how well’ we perform or manage.

Any activity that pushes the boundary of internal comfort is ‘risk’. Especially doing things that might make us feel wrong, or worried, or outside our natural ‘wants’. But there is a sense of liberation too when someone realises that they can do more than they anticipated.Feeling that sense of achievement creates an openess to try more.

Risk can best be encourged with a range or new or random activities, especially those where there is less pre-conceived notion of what should be ‘right’. So ask your children to …

  • Make a picture using only knives forks or chop sticks

  • Give mummy a new hair style

  • Design a sock

  • Create a den from the furniture in the room

  • Draw a maze or a make a new board game

  • Create a crazy look from someone else’s wardrobe

  • Go and pick leaves and create a design

  • Make a potion with any liquds in the fridge and drink some

  • Make an unusual sandwich

  • Clean a dirty pan

  • Construct a tower from strange objects

Challenge is something we can do at variable levels of success. Giving someone a challenge they can start small or go big… working at the level they believe they can manage. Once a challenge is offered simply adapt until the person feels willingto work. See what they need – a bit of help, a start point, an incentive – but other things help too such as a little ridicule, a little ridiculousness!

Show children that parents must face risk too, talk about it. You might even let them challenge you! We all face moments through our day where we make mistakes, feel vulnerable and have a releuctance to move forward or persist with difficulty and we can be open about this so that children understand that every year brings new opportunties to stretch (or shrink!!). Enjoy risk – it’s how we grow.

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