I agree that as parents we need to put safe risks back into our children's lives. If we don't our children's first exposure to risk will be in their adolescence and they will face these risks without any experience.
In my mind, it is better to expose our kids to risks whilst they are still under our protection and we are able to ensure the risks are 'safer'.
Controlling our children does not teach them to do the 'right' things. It teaches them to obey adults. When you guide children, they develop learned behaviour based on knowledge.
It seems to be about building resilience in children. Letting them solve their own problems. Teaching them to 'have a go'. Letting them learn to deal with disappointment. Giving them time. Encouraging them to practise. Giving them space. Giving them materials. And letting them be.
The five key concepts that come up in the literature about this are:
1. Set limits - these protect their health and safety e.g. We eat at the table (allowing for 'special occasion' variations) or couches are for sitting on, not jumping on.
2. Logical consequences - If they knock over the drink, it is an accident and should be treated as such. Try to use "when" statements e.g. When x is done we will go to the park rather than if x is done we will go to the park.
3. Provide choices - but make sure both of the choices are acceptable e.g. either put on your hat or stay in the shade. Acknowledge their feelings ("I understand that your hat makes your head hot"). Listen and validate their feelings.
4. Use positive communication - Always reinforce positive behaviour. The key ones in our household are:
- Be gentle to your siblings
- Stay close to me (instead of Don't run off)
- Stop at the road
- Walk around the puddle (instead of Don't walk through the puddle)
- Walk inside (instead of Don't run)
- Sit down while you are eating
5. Give acknowledgement instead of over-praising. Say thank you for specific behaviour (instead of 'you are such a good boy') as they may not know why they are good. Young children can get confused about sugary praise.
If you are interested in knowing more about this style of parenting, you can download a free e-book called "No Fear- Growing up in a risk averse society" by Tim Gill or visit the free-range kids website.
So. How free-range are you?