Those of us who parent a risk taker have probably spent a lot of time with a knot in our stomachs to match the knot between our shoulder blades. I am the mother of three sons, all of whom not only wanted to throw the lacrosse ball back-and-forth, but assumed it would somehow be more fun if they were up on top of a pitched roof, throwing it as hard as they could at one another, perhaps with their eyes closed, and maybe with their dominant hand tied behind their back. The simple pursuit of childhood play never seemed to produce the thrill my three sons needed to feel fully satisfied. Parents of cautious children, and I am an aunt to one such youngster, can stop reading this article right now, because this is directed to those of us forced to experience the fearless, thrill-seeking personality. I am quite confident that caution, like shyness, is something certain children are born with, and that risk taking is also a trait acquired prior to birth. The issue is that often risk takers turn into experimenters, and adolescent experimentation is obviously a stage we want to prolong, if not avoid entirely. In order for your risk taker to get the most out of life, while staying out of harm’s way, I think it is best to channel their energy into more benign activities that still carry a sense of daring and adventure. Here are some relatively tame ways to do just that:
- Athletics are fantastic for the risk taking personality. Sports requires the ability to stick your head in the way of the ball, go after something that is not a sure thing, and compete against others. The competitive spirit is alive and well inside most risk takers, and should be channeled, rather than squelched. If team sports don’t mesh with your child, look into swimming, running, or cycling. The outlet of physical energy will, at the very least, tire your thrill-seeker out a bit.
- If your child isn’t an athlete, perhaps they would be interested in learning a second language. Language is best acquired by people willing to take risks, to speak up, to be wrong, to possibly even say something foolish. People who are naturals at linguistics speak to the importance of making a bold and brave foray into conversation in order to best master a new language.
- As your child becomes older, independent travel is a wonderful outlet for risk takers. Mastering public transportation, flying solo, mapping out college visits, and visiting grandma on their own are all ways that teenagers can take some relatively safe chances, and have a positive and satisfying outcome.
- Outdoor activities are perfect for risk takers and thrill seekers. Camping, biking, fishing, hiking, orienteering, canoeing, and outdoor leadership create an atmosphere rife with natural thrills and adventures. These pursuits also provide hours of weekend fun and activity that keeps children and teenagers away from much of what we would like them to avoid, like parties, and non-stop social media use.
- Theater, art, and music all help tame the thrill-seeking beast. Encourage your courageous risk-taker to entertain a crowd, join a band, or throw clay onto a wheel. The idea is to let the risky behavior be absorbed by the creative expression.
- Taking apart broken things, and perhaps being able to actually fix them, can satisfy the curiosity of many cerebral risk-takers who just have to know how and why something works, or doesn’t. If you have a budding Mr. Fix-it or a future mechanic, go ahead and give them the broken and outdated VCR to experiment on, just teach them to always make sure items are unplugged prior to dissection!
In general, my advice is to find a variety of outlets for a risk-taker’s energy and thrill seeking. It is Sisyphean to think you can turn your thrill-seeker into a wallflower, but you can help them find activities that keep them busy, active, tired, and safe. Furthermore, it may turn out that your toddler that escapes from every baby gate, or your child who wants you to push them higher and higher on the swing, becomes a long distance runner, fluent in Mandarin, or an accomplished fly fisherman. Risk takers are willing to try new foods, subjects, sports, and other extra-curricular pursuits. They are also not as averse to failing as more cautious teenagers, so they develop resilience and perseverance while pursuing a broad variety of interests. Yes, it can be frightening for a parent to witness, but make safe spaces for your risk taker to soar, and they may just amaze you.