Anxious Parent? How To Let Your Kid Take Risks & Go On Adventures
We've already espoused the wonders of letting your kids get outdoors and play. We, too, have talked before about the massive benefits of giving your kids more independence—for both you and your child. But we know that for some parents, letting your kid go off on their own can be intimidating: That's OK. Like with any aspect of parenting, some parts come more naturally to some, while others can be a challenge.
"I think as parents, we might be a little scared of the risks that come along with outdoor play and free play, but you should remember that these small, often low-stakes risks are actually positive and can help your kid grow," says Aliza Pressman, Ph.D., the cofounding director and director of clinical programming for the Mount Sinai Parenting Center. "Especially if you are someone who maybe didn't grow up in this environment. So how you feel about letting your kid explore probably depends on the lens that you were raised with. And like anything that's new, it's normal for your mind to go immediately to what could go wrong."
If this sounds like you, here are a few ways you can get outside your comfort zone. And, like with any new habit, start slow and build up from there.
Get another family member involved
One easy way to let your kid explore the great outdoors is to ask a more adventure-versed family member or friend to join. This will help in a few ways: First, it can create a healthy bond between your kid and a trusted adult. Second, he or she can act as a guide and guard for your kid, helping ease your fears. And finally, their enthusiasm can be contagious for your kid—making the activity more fun.
"If this is something that you just know you are not going to be comfortable with, let go of it and find someone you trust to take your kid out there," says Pressman. "If you are going to be stressing and making cringe faces the whole time, your kid is going to pick up on that. It will just increase everyone's anxiety."
Perhaps this also takes the form of enrolling your kid in camp or an outdoor-focused group activity. This way, too, your kid will be with other children their own age who also enjoy the outdoors.
Be smart about risk-taking.
Understandably, when kids get involved in risky behavior where they could end up hurting themselves, parents tend to intervene. Of course, there are many instances where you should ("Don't let your kid do stupid things," says Pressman), but if the worst-case scenario is a minor physical injury, chances are it's OK to let your kid play.
"There are such things as well-thought-out physical risks," says Pressman. "And we often get too overprotective and forget that kids are supposed to be rolling around, jumping off things, and climbing stuff."
Think of it like a cost-benefit analysis: How happy is it making them versus how potentially dangerous is it? "If it's bringing them joy, and it's not that risky of a behavior, then yes—you're just going to have to sit in your discomfort," she says.
Remember: Nature is good for you, too.
"There is no question that getting outside is an important part of childhood and adulthood," says Pressman. "Not just for a sense of adventure but for a sense of presence and connection with the world."
Pressman says that if you can do the work on yourself and get to a place that you'll be able to let go a bit and enjoy exploring with your kid, it can only be beneficial for the both of you. Not only will you receive the healing benefits of the outdoors, but you'll create a space in which you can grow and bond with your child.
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