After a year heavily impacted by the global pandemic, many Australian children have had their physical activity limited in some way. The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) says the commencement of summer school holidays today gives parents a perfect opportunity to encourage their children to get outside and explore, play and take risks to support healthy physical and cognitive development. Over-protective parents who go to great lengths to reduce the risk in their childrens’ play can unintentionally inhibit their development.

Chair of the APA Paediatric Group Nicole Haynes says that on top of the physical benefits of risky play, there are also psychological, social, and cognitive development aspects that help children establish independence and achieve important physical milestones.

Ms Haynes says, “More physically demanding and challenging activities promote muscle growth and coordination, but risky play goes beyond that.”

“Children’s lives today are very structured, much more so than in their parents’ or grandparents’ childhoods. Many decisions are made for them, even when it comes to the playground. Risky play is about encouraging kids to participate in unstructured play, to be responsible for their own decision making, and the consequences that may come with those decisions.”

“Exposing children to low-level risk situations helps them to develop their risk assessment abilities and their physical and cognitive confidence.”

Over the past few decades, studies have shown a rise in over-protective parenting practices, dubbed ‘helicopter parenting’. While parents often understand the benefits of risky outdoor play, they rarely seek it out and struggle to overcome their own fears and concerns.

“We’re not suggesting you put your children in the way of hazards or leave them unsupervised, but our reaction should be modified to suit the level of the hazard. Sometimes you only need to modify the challenge, not remove it.”

“What we want to see is children given more opportunities to be active, challenge their bodies, and test their limits. As well as seeing these children improve their strength and balance, we also see them learn from their mistakes.”

Some types of common risky play include heights; rapid speed; dangerous tools; dangerous elements; rough and tumble and play with a chance of getting lost.

If you’re looking for ways to introduce more risk into your children’s play, Ms Haynes suggests being gender-equal and encouraging building, digging, constructing, rough and tumble play and cooking with children. Explore various outdoor environments and encourage new and creative ways to use existing objects, tools, toys and equipment.

“We want to see kids develop mentally as well as physically. The goal is to inspire problem solving, creativity, initiative, and curiosity. These are all essential elements for our development into independent adulthood.”


Nicole Haynes is available for further comment.  


Related tags