Recently I made a decision as a parent that left me shook. When I say I was shook, I’m referring to not only my parenting style, but the core of so many of my ideas about life, that I find so important; freedom and failure – prime elements of risk taking.

Before I go into the details of my recent parental failure, I should probably share a little bit about myself and the person I claim to be. I pride myself on encouraging anyone I know to be who and whatever they want, regardless of the cost. I encourage anyone, young or old, to be risky. I encourage anyone to be risky in both emotional and physical endeavors. There is no price high enough worth sacrificing who and what anyone truly desires to be. This is generally true in my parenting style as well. I have encouraged my children to try out for teams, attend new schools, talk to new peers, hit baseballs that are thrown at incredibly fast speeds, dance on stages in front of crowded audiences…the list goes on and on.

Now, depending on who you are, some of these things may seem insignificant – and some of you may be asking yourself what kind of monster am I? This will obviously depend on your own feelings on taking risks and how you feel about encouraging children to engage in “risky” behavior themselves..

All risk taking inherently requires consideration of both the physical and mental advantages and limitations of the risk taker and their loved ones.

Moms and dads – for example – are risk takers. No one will ever fault a parent for stretching their mind, body, and wallet for their kiddos. As parents we want what’s best for our children. We are willing to take illogical and some would say foolhardy risks with our own physical strength, time, and resources in order to provide our offspring the very best the world has to offer. You are taking risks that will shape the legacy left for generations to come – no pressure, right? Why, then, do we feel the need to encapsulate our children in a glass bubble, free from risk – in the name of “safety.” 

Children, like their moms and dads, are risk takers. Unlike their parents, they may not be investing their money in risky Wall Street opportunities; or risking their mental and physical health by chasing their second cup of coffee with an energy drink in order to stay awake, after a late night at the office; but children are risk takers nonetheless. Adolescent risk taking tends to look more like tree climbing, questioning (everything), and giving the wrong answer after raising your hand in a whole class discussion. When children want to take risks they are not always encouraged to “go for it” and told that “with risk comes reward” like their parents. When a child begins to engage in risky behavior it is not uncommon for them to be told “be careful,” “get down,” and “please stop asking me so many questions.” I recently read that, “The greatest barrier is often ourselves (adults) and our timidity about exploring new territory. The key is to have the courage to take the beautiful risks necessary for supporting.”

I think it’s time to share with you the parental fail that set this blog post in motion. My husband gifted me with the most beautiful butter yellow bicycle this past Christmas. This bicycle is equipped with a luggage rack perfectly sized (or so I thought) for a five-year-old who is too afraid to ride a bicycle of his very own. I wanted my son to experience the same joy I felt when I was his age. I wanted him to feel the success of independence as he pedaled his bike down the street. In short, I wanted him to take a risk and experience the reward. In a brief brainstorming session with myself, I decided that if he could feel success as a passenger, he would surely be more willing to try to ride his own bike.

By either divine intervention, or his own intuition, he wasn’t convinced. As a person who, in her own experience, can’t recall a summer without a bicycle – it is inconceivable for me to think that my child would refuse to ride his own bike, let alone be a passenger on his mother’s. After a bit of pleading – and the successful bribe of ice cream – I convinced my reasonably cautious child that there was very little danger in sitting on the luggage rack for a quick trip around the corner for a treat.

BOY WAS I WRONG!

Shortly after turning the corner off our street the “impossible” happened. My sweet five-year-old’s foot was caught in the spoke of my butter yellow bicycle. The pain-induced screams that flowed freely from his mouth pierced my heart in a way that it is still healing today. I messed up and I knew it. I encouraged my own child to take a risk that he didn’t even want. I encouraged my child to take a risk that led to failure. Failure that felt painful to his body and mind. I took a risk and the “reward” was in no way beautiful.

Reflecting on this experience has forced me to question the value of my own risk taking and the risk taking I encourage my own children to take. While the memories of this experience have been miserable, I am now able to say I have experienced real failure in risk taking.

Taking Beautiful Risks in Education highlights the benefits and importance of beautiful risk taking. Taking risks may result in failure, but are beneficial no matter the outcome. This particular situation ended in scrapes and bruises; but they have faded and healed. It’s become a truly teachable moment. Risk taking results in resilience and independence. The sort of stamina and grit we hope our children will go out and conquer the world with. With any outcome, of any risk, strength and character are built and reinforced. Nobody wants to be the reason their child gets hurt; but I will continue to encourage them to take the risks that offer a lifetime of reward over the fear of temporary pain.

So I say, let’s take more beautiful risks. Risks that may sometimes result in failure. Risks that may result in a few bumps and bruises. Risks that when all options are weighed, hopefully won’t result in pulling your child around in a wagon, because the guilt you feel is too great to bear. Let’s be fearless in our pursuit of challenging ourselves to be everything our children and inner child are yearning to be.

Katelyn Ewing is a kindergarten teacher with New Morning School in Plymouth, MI. She can be reached at katelyn@newmorningschool.com.