Risk Taking Behaviors in Children

Taking risks -- and learning from them -- is an inevitable and important part of growing up. As a parent, it is your responsibility to encourage healthy risk-taking behavior. By understanding the different types of such behavior and the motivation behind taking these behaviors, you can set your children up for success and reduce their risk of harm.


Children take risks for a number of reasons. As some children develop mastery of a task, they take risks to improve their skills. For example, a child learning to ride a bike might risk falling off of it in order to perfect the skill. In these cases, the UCLA Mental Health in Schools Program and Policy Analysis argues that risk-taking behaviors are simply a part of the learning process 1. Other risk-taking behaviors stem from an effort to assert independence and develop autonomy. Risk taking is a normal part of development; it allows a child to define his identity and grow as an individual.

Healthy Risks

You might associate the term risk with dangerous activities, but risk taking behaviors can be healthy, too. When your children step outside of their comfort zone and participate in a new activity -- whether they are performing in the school play, trying out for the volleyball team or volunteering for a nonprofit -- they take a risk. These choices can be difficult for children, as they risk their comfort when they try something new. Such healthy risk-taking behaviors are a normal and important part of child development and should be encouraged as your children learn to make good choices and become more skilled and independent.

Unhealthy Risks

Children take unhealthy risks as well. Whether they are testing limits or their own skills, or seeking a thrill, some risks put children in danger. These unhealthy risks are the ones that worry parents the most because such behavior can lead to negative consequences. Children might choose not to wear bike helmets or seat belts, behaviors that increase their risk of injury or trauma. Teens might drive too fast, text while driving or try cigarettes or alcohol. These behaviors also put children's health and safety at risk.

Teachable Moments

As a parent, you can curb unhealthy risk-taking behavior and support healthy behavior 1. When your child engages in unhealthy risk-taking behavior, turn that incident into a teachable moment. The University of Michigan Health System reports that interventions after unhealthy risk-taking behaviors can minimize such behavior in the future. So, talk to your children about the risks and discuss ways to reduce the negative aspects of risk. Give your child opportunities to participate in healthy risk-taking behavior, as well. Modeling appropriate risk-taking behavior is also an effective way to teach your children.