Enabling Children to Manage Risk

Keeping Children Safe

Children need to learn how to keep themselves safe in a variety of different situations and it is important that we work closely with them to enable them to manage their own risk. Managing risk is part of what adults have to do every day in our lives and if children aren’t taught the skills from an early age they will not be self-reliant when they are older.

Of course, this does not mean we need to put them into dangerous situations or give 2 year olds scissors to run around the house with … it means we need to risk assess each of the children depending on their age and stage of development and think about how we can teach them to look after themselves through direct teaching and sensitive interventions.

In our provision, we involve the childminded children in our daily risk assessments. It is no longer a requirement of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS, 2014) to write risk assessments but, to teach children how to risk assess we have made some tick lists for them to use. We keep them simple for the children – pictures and a few words – and we go into the garden (for example) and look for holly leaves from the plant which hangs over the fence from next door and animal faeces which might be in the flower beds (we have a lot of local cats who visit our garden).

Similarly, when we go on outings we sit on the bench at the park and talk about safety before the children run off to play. We remind the children about stranger danger and not running off and we talk about staying safe around the swings etc; our children know that animal faeces will hurt them and they need to shout and point if they see it on the ground.

We asked a new starter to our provision who was 4 years old – ‘if someone at the park says he has lost his puppy would you go and help him to find the puppy?’ She said yes she would help the man find his puppy – she said the man must be very sad and worried about his puppy. We praised her capacity for empathy but we also made sure we planned some targeted interventions to help her learn about stranger danger!

We think carefully about the risk vs benefits of activities we plan for the children. We all know that thrown sand can cause a lot of problems if it goes into children’s eyes but we do not put the sand pit away because of this – we teach the children not to throw the sand through gentle interactions and consistent messages and we supervise them, reminding them if they forget. In many instances, we will risk assess as we go and decide during the day that the benefits of a particular game outweigh the risks in a carefully set up environment. For example, our children can tell you that if it’s raining they will need to wear wellies before jumping in puddles and put their rain coats on; they know that spiky leaves will hurt their feet so they should wear shoes when playing outside

It is essential to know each child very well and to understand what makes them tick: what is their individual capacity for recognising and dealing with risk? This is part of the Characteristics of Effective Learning – knowing how each child learns and using that knowledge in our planning.

We are also aware that if children are not exposed to risky play or challenges at home we might need to spend more time with them teaching them in more depth about risk before allowing them to, for example, run off to play hide and seek or pick up autumn leaves on a nature walk.

It is a requirement of the EYFS that we support children’s home learning, providing parents with suggestions and activity ideas to follow-up at home. As part of this, we need to ensure families understand the importance of teaching their children about risk. We often see parents at the park ‘helicoptering’ round their children and not letting them try to do new things. We have even seen these same parents looking askance at us for saying to the children ‘try and see if you can do it’ or ‘go on - we trust you’.

A nursery colleague has some low wooden stepping stones in her garden – a child fell off one and broke his arm – parents were not happy, asking to see risk assessments, details about staff deployment and witness statements. It can be very distressing when children have accidents and of course we need to take every care to ensure their safety – but parents also need to recognise that sometimes, even in the best outstanding setting, sometimes children fall and hurt themselves. Part of our job as key person for each child is to explain this to them.

To support older children to learn about risk and to manage their own risk, we need to teach them their own names (my colleague had a 3 year old who thought her name was ‘Boo’ because that was her pet name at home), the names of their parents and their home addresses. They should be taught, for example, who to approach if they are lost in a busy shopping centre and how to recognise and ring 999 from various types of phones. This teaching is usually done alongside school, with planned activities to learn about stranger danger. In the provision, traditional stories in books such as ‘3 little pigs’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel’ can support children’s understanding of strangers and how to be safe when on outings. Again, it is important to put children in charge of their learning… ask them lots of open-ended questions which encourage them to think carefully about different scenarios and how to keep themselves safe.

To support older children to learn about risk and to manage their own risk, we need to teach them their own names (my colleague had a 3 year old who thought her name was ‘Boo’ because that was her pet name at home), the names of their parents and their home addresses. They should be taught, for example, who to approach if they are lost in a busy shopping centre and how to recognise and ring 999 from various types of phones. This teaching is usually done alongside school, with planned activities to learn about stranger danger. In the provision, traditional stories in books such as ‘3 little pigs’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel’ can support children’s understanding of strangers and how to be safe when on outings. Again, it is important to put children in charge of their learning… ask them lots of open-ended questions which encourage them to think carefully about different scenarios and how to keep themselves safe.

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