When Should We Prevent Risk-Taking in Infants?


Be careful.


If there was such a list, “be careful” would have to be in the “Top Ten Phrases Parents Tell their Toddlers,” and I’m not exempt from uttering those words on occasion. Reminding Greysen to be careful as she bends forward into the tub, feet dangling just off the ground, comes to mind. Sometimes, though, I hear these words spoken so incessantly that I wonder if parents are hoping to turn this warning into their toddler’s mantra.


As parents, we are ultimately responsible for keeping the youngest members of our families safe as they learn to navigate in this world of endless fascination.  All too often, fears over the mildest of injuries can result in a parent’s total discouragement from activities that, to children, are natural and (dare I say) necessary.


Encouraging occasional risk-taking in our infants and toddlers may feel counter-intuitive to our protective instincts. We want our children to be safe and avoid harm – as we should – but children are born adventurers.


Consider milestones, for instance. Taking one’s first steps involves letting go of a secure base to move forward without a stabilizing object. Now that’s risk!



I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.  ~Pablo Picasso


The Challenge of a Safe Risk

Steering a ride-on toy toward the street – high risk. We intervene as it’s a no-brainer.


A young toddler wants to jump off a step or climb tree stumps – what is the actual risk to the child? The answer depends on the toddler, each with his or her own strengths, meaning that what is risky for one may be done effortlessly by another.



This is Moon at the top of a some steps in our home.  Perhaps if it weren’t for others encouraging me to rescue her, I may not have even realized that encouraging Moon to descend the stairs on her own felt risky to anyone.


In her very first attempt to descend the stairs, Moon faltered from the top step, landing roughly on the second. She has since taken a more cautious approach to heading down the stairs.


Trusting that she knows best how her body moves, I did not prevent her from trying to go down the stairs again even though she may fall.


I did not show her or turn her around so that she would descend feet first.  Instead, I sat nearby, gave her time and a offered a reassuring confident presence.



She’s been contemplating trying the stairs again for a few days.

She’s been mentored by her face-painted sister.


On this morning, she thought about it for nearly 20 minutes before letting me know she was not ready to try the stairs, but definitely ready to eat.

I think she was making a plan.

After many mornings, afternoons, and early evenings hanging out at the top of the stairs, she made her second attempt to go down them.


Head first.


This moment reminded me of one of the most fundamental tenets of RIE’s philosophies regarding movement.  That is children, when given unrestricted chances to move of on their own and of their own choosing will know their bodies. They know how to move, as well as how to fall.



As valuable than a blanket warning of “be careful,” our infants and toddlers need responsiveness and trust.



The following words sum up my sentiments:



Only those who risk going too far will know how far they can go. – T.S. Elliot



The girls will take risks with or without my encouragement. I, for my part, am responsible for acting as their guide, assessing which risks need to be reigned in and which really do not. This takes frequent self-reflection on my part because I’ve noticed that I am more prone to err on the side of keeping them uber safe when I am distracted. I am however, always on the lookout for interesting movement opportunities when we are out and about on our own.

What types of motor challenges do your children find irresistible? In what types of situations do your children take safe risks?

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