This article comes from Active for Life.
If you ever see that mother who appears to be deliberately not watching her child as the kid leaps and darts dangerously around the park, don’t judge her too harshly. She might be trying to encourage her daughter to take risks because she knows the benefits of those daredevil antics — but is also aware that in order for them to happen, said child needs to not be facing her mother’s worried eyes and panicked expression.
Ok, you got me. I’m that mother, and I’m given to, well, a little overprotection. But just because I would rather not view the riskiness, doesn’t mean I don’t get how important it is.
In Psychology Today is a fascinating article explaining the relationship between the way children play and their emotional development. The article cites studies in which young rats were exposed to all forms of social experience, excluding play time and the rats subsequently starting to “overact with fear and fail to adapt and explore as a normal rat would”, as well as similar studies with monkeys. These studies, among others, give credence to the “emotion regulation theory of play, the theory that one of play’s major functions is to teach young mammals how to regulate fear and anger so they can encounter real-life dangers, and interact in close quarters with others, without succumbing to negative emotions.”
As applied to children, then, its not just about Billy climbing a fence to prove to his friends he’s no scaredy-cat, it’s his opportunity to show himself that he can overcome his fears, so the next time he encounters a new experience, he is much more confident to take it on. Naturally, this doesn’t happen on the first try, and it isn’t something the child will understand, but with each instance that Billy takes on a new challenge in his playtime activities, he’s slowly preparing himself for more of life’s obstacles.