The Benefits of Risk Taking


Dr Kimberley O'Brien

The Benefits of Risk Taking

In this episode of the Impressive podcast, Dr Kimberley discusses why parents should encourage their children to take risks with Daisy Turnbull, author of 50 Risks to Take With Your Kids and 50 Questions to Ask Your Teens

Dr Kimberley has always been a proponent of increasing children’s independence by encouraging them to do age-appropriate activities such as ordering at a cafe or riding their bikes to the shops on their own. She asks Daisy to clarify exactly what she means by risks and how parents can ensure their children stay safe while taking them.

Daisy explains that parenting has become much more protective in the last few decades to the detriment of some children who have become overly cautious. In other cases, children take dangerous risks because they haven’t been given enough autonomy at home and they start to push back.

To achieve the right balance, Daisy and Dr Kimberley agree that parents should build up their children’s self-confidence and self-esteem by allowing them to take measured risks. Daisy says children need to develop their own “risk profiles” and they can’t do that if their parents are always stopping them from doing anything risky. They become “all confidence and zero competence”.

Further Reading


[Q&A] How to Empower Young People

The two experts concur that the notion of “stranger danger” is outdated and parents should teach their children to trust their instincts about people. Dr Kimberley believes that, coupled with open communication and modelling risk-taking, this approach will turn children into confident and competent risk-takers.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • Why protective parenting isn’t in our children’s best interests
  • The benefits of risk-taking for children
  • How parents can encourage their children to take risks in a safe manner
  • How parents can be risk-taking role models to their children

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Read the full transcript below under references.

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Dr Kimberley O'Brien (00:02):

Hello, I'm Dr. Kimberley O'Brien, child psychologist and CEO at the Quirky Kid Clinic. I thought this podcast series would be a great way to share some of the strategies and the stories that we hear at the clinic with you as parents and carers who want to put some actions in place almost immediately. So we are looking at different topics. And today we're talking about risk taking, which is one of my favorite topics, because it really does challenge us as parents to take some risks ourselves, and to be brave. So let's have a listen.

Daisy Turnbull (00:38):

Hi, my name's Daisy Turnbull, and I've written a book called 50 Risks to Take With Your Kids. And it's about the kind of how to, of what we should be doing with our kids to get them to where I, as a teacher think year seven students should be. So it's very much for the zero to 10, 11, 12 age bracket. My next book, 50 Questions to Ask Your Teens is about the conversations we should be having with teenagers. And that's very much based on my experience as a high school teacher.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (01:10):

Hi, Daisy, thanks so much for joining us today. I often talk about risks when I'm at the clinic in terms of independence. So I'll often be encouraging parents to kind of create a little plan around how they can increase their child's independence, just in bite-sized pieces, like maybe riding to the shop on their bike, or going into a cafe and putting the order in or getting a list that they need from the shops and coming out of the shops and doing all that for the parent, but really to increase their own independence. And when I came across your book, I was thinking, okay, risks. The word risks often makes me think that we're pushing kids beyond their comfort zone. And I wondered if you could kind of talk to me a little bit more about the difference between increasing independence and encouraging risks.

Daisy Turnbull (01:56):

Yeah. Look, I think they're ultimately a miscontext. They're basically the same thing, but we don't gain independence in doing what we are comfortable with. So the idea of the risks was this idea of ways to build independence and resilience in kids in ways that when you read it, you might think it sounds a bit dangerous, but it's not. And if anything, I think the way to position it is I was very much a kid of the eighties and nineties, and I'm a parent of the 2010s of the 20 teens. And the difference in that time has been so big that the stuff when I was growing up was quite basic and normal to do is now considered risky.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (02:46):

Yeah, I can totally relate to that growing up and riding our bikes for miles and just really having a whole lot of freedom versus now seeing a lot of kids getting picked up from the bus stop when they don't live too far from there. So I wonder whether parents' anxieties are impacting on their kids and how we can reduce that as parents, because I know the parents that come to the clinic, they definitely want their kids to be more independent because that means, as adults, we can also be more independent and free. How do you go about introducing the idea of increasing those risks for kids when parents are a little bit anxious?

Daisy Turnbull (03:25):

Well, I think that's the goal ultimately. It's managing the parents' anxiety as much as the kids' potential anxiety. And I really liken the book actually starts with the great quote by Jonathan Haidt that says, "The job of a parent is to work yourself out of a job," and parenting should get easier as it goes on. Like, yes, they say, little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems, but overall, you shouldn't be making your kids breakfast when they're seven or eight or nine. And I think that what's happened is we've tied good parenting to protective parenting.

Daisy Turnbull (04:05):

And what that has meant is everyone has kids, not everyone, but people have kids every couple of years. So you often, when you have kids, have friends who have kids who are a few years older and you would kind of look to them and think, oh, well, I like what they do, but maybe I want to be a bit quote, unquote better. And so maybe you're a little bit more protective and then your friends become a little bit more protective and that continues. And somewhere between the nineties and today we've just taken it way too far in how protective we are.

Daisy Turnbull (04:33):

So the unwinding of that doesn't have to be hugely terrifying. It can be in small steps. And that's the idea with the book. And I think that is... There are in the book, they're categorized and there are the parenting risks, but they are all parenting risks because it's the parents' decision to let their children take these risks.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (04:59):

I hear you. I love it. I love unpacking these kinds of topics because we also see children at the clinic that are risk takers. So for example, they'll be climbing huge fences or poles, or even sometimes crossing the road without looking, things like that, that would be sometimes the reason for referral. So what do you do in those cases where kids are risk takers and parents are kind of more trying to step in to keep them safe? Yeah. How do you get the balance right? I know that's a kind of tough question.

Daisy Turnbull (05:31):

Yeah. And I think, Kimberley, you would have a lot more experience in this than I do, but I would think that often when kids are taking risks in one area of their life, it might be because they're not getting enough autonomy in other parts of their life. And I obviously see that more with teenagers because that's what I teach. And often when the parents are more conservative and risk averse, that's when the kids kind of rebel more. It's kind of a bit like an elastic band. And the further you pull it, the greater, the flick back. And so I would wonder that, like maybe there's an argument for sometimes those kids getting more responsibility at home in other ways that then mean they're not needing to take those bigger risks outside of the home. I don't know. Is that something you've experienced?

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (06:24):

Yeah. I'm feeling like it's all tied into the idea of adolescents being risk takers. Maybe it's a bit of a balance to try and encourage more risks in primary school aged kids so that you can become confident with them not pushing beyond that level of comfort too much, that they're kind of doing it incrementally and they're getting good results and developing their self-esteem and self-confidence because they are able to take measured risks. And then the parents have that equal sense of like, okay, I can relax. He's kind of being sensible about how far he pushes himself, because it's within his skillset to keep pushing and increasing his independence, which is a big, proud moment for most parents. I love that when I see my kids doing things independently, I think, brilliant, what else can I teach them?

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (07:15):

But then also, I guess when it comes to adolescents and maybe this is kind of more in line with your next book around what questions to ask, like how would you go about determining whether it is yeah, like pushing a boundary or a safe risk to take? Because I guess, as a parent, I want to kind of give them the benefit of doubt and encourage them to test it out. But is there some sort of like formula that you fall back on to go, okay, that's okay, that's not okay, when it comes to adolescents?

Daisy Turnbull (07:46):

I'd love it if there was a formula. How easy would that be? It's your age and your height divided by the amount of months you've been... No, I think we often give teens a really bad name and we go, oh, they're really risky. And they are, and their prefrontal cortexes aren't developed and all of that stuff, but it's often because they haven't had the chance as younger kids to test themselves out. So when you think about those teenagers you know that are really responsible and you trust them to babysit or you leave them at home, whatever it is, it's often because those skills have been tested and developed and nurtured when they were younger.

Daisy Turnbull (08:29):

So I think a big part of it is this idea of our own risk profiles. So for example, yesterday I was down at Bondi with some friends and the waves weren't that big, but they were just choppy. And I am not confident in waves. I know this about myself. I want to become more confident and they swam out to the buoy and I didn't. I kind of got in a bit and then came out and that's because I know my risk profile with that. When you parent a kid where you are constantly the one that stops them doing the thing, because before they realize they're scared, they never develop that risk profile. So they're all confidence and zero competent. Their confidence to competent ratio is way out.

Daisy Turnbull (09:10):

So I think it's about getting kids to develop their own risk profiles and not outsourcing it to their parents. So things like stranger danger is a really interesting one, right? Because in year two, every kid is taught strangers are dangerous, always go to your family and teachers and coaches and all of that. And we know that statistically that's not the case. And if we were to think about the people that are most dangerous to kids and teenagers it's often people they know. The better thing to potentially do is to let kids learn to trust their gut around all people. You mentioned getting a coffee or going to the shops. By doing that kids understand how they feel in certain situations and learn to trust themselves rather than just outsourcing that to their parents. And then that is a skill they develop into the teenage years.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (10:08):

I like it because it doesn't feel right as a parent to say, oh, watch out for that guy. Or gee, this one doesn't look too safe because that just feels like judgmental and wrong. So I totally agree with that, just trusting your gut and letting the kids do that. And then to talk it through and to agree or to yeah, give them other ways to use their senses rather than just by looking at someone and making a judgment. I think that's [crosstalk 00:10:36].

Daisy Turnbull (10:35):

And asking them what is it about that person that meant you didn't trust them?

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (10:39):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). The detail.

Daisy Turnbull (10:41):

And getting them to explain that to you.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (10:42):

Yes. So also, Daisy, I wanted to ask you, like daughter of Malcolm, what was it like growing up with Malcolm Turnbull as your dad? Was he a risk taker? And is it hard for parents to be risk takers, to take the lead and be brave, and show kids how to, or just to be a role model in the risk taking department?

Daisy Turnbull (11:03):

Look, I would say, so for me growing up, Dad only really entered the public sphere, for me, as my experience kind of in '99 with the republican referendum. Before that, I kind of had a doubt who worked in business. I think it was... That experience of quote, unquote Malcolm Turnbull, for me, didn't exist until I was 14 or 15. And that's when I was like, oh, he's in the newspaper. So my childhood with Dad, and also that obviously crosses over with when Mom was being in the town hall and all that. So my first 15 years were very normal for a Sydney kid. I remember I just had a very normal childhood. Dad was probably a little bit more risky when it came to swimming in waves, which is potentially why I am not super confident in waves, because I remember getting dumped by waves so often as a kid. But they were always so good at talking things through and I think. Yeah. So I think, for me, the experience of being Malcolm and Lucy's daughter didn't really exist until I was 14 or 15.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (12:23):

I'm thinking you as a parent now, Daisy, are you trying to be more of a risk taker or do things differently than the way you were raised or that doesn't [crosstalk 00:12:33]?

Daisy Turnbull (12:33):

No, if anything, I'm probably trying to be more like them and more like an eighties or nineties parent, which is very different in this generation. I remember when my son was two, it was Christmas Eve and due to some technical issues with the sleigh, Santa needed some assistance with building a trampoline. And we said, look, yeah, we're happy to help. Obviously Christmas Eve, very busy night for Santa. And my dad and my brother and the kids' dad were building it. And they got to the point where it was a trampoline without the walls around it, you know, the mesh.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (13:14):

Oh yeah.

Daisy Turnbull (13:14):

And my dad's like, "Okay, the 1980s trampoline's done." And it's so true, then I had to spend another half hour putting together this wall.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (13:25):

The safety nets.

Daisy Turnbull (13:26):

Yeah. All the safety nets and all that. So yeah. Look, I think I try and be more relaxed, but I also think, and this is a really important point, I would not have written this book if I had my daughter first, because my son is more risky and he is very confident and he's able to talk his way out of anything. And so for me it was like, well, hang on, he wants to do all this stuff. What should he do? What can he do? My daughter is very happy to hold my hand, walking down the street and much more, not timid, but she doesn't want to scooter down the road and turn around and see if I'm still following. So I think, yeah, it's partly my experience, but it's also partly the kids'.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (14:05):

I agree with you. I'm thinking just these personality differences, like my little brother was a real risk taker, but he's so strong and confident in the way he does things like swinging from the tree, on his bike, into the dam. Had lots of accidents and things like that, but still he's teaching his kids how to ride along narrow things that are next to the road. I'm thinking, oh my god, is that safe? But that's his style and he so comfortable with it. His boys are equally confident and balanced and strong. So yeah, I think there's a lot in that when it comes to role modeling, risk taking and being confident with it. Thanks, Daisy, for your time today and have a great day.

Daisy Turnbull (14:46):

Thank you.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien (14:51):

That was Daisy Turnbull. And we have details of her new books in our show notes. You can also go to the show notes to see Quirky Kids' website details. And you'll find a long list of resources there with topics such as risk taking and many more. So next time we have the topic of harnessing hyperactivity. I'm Dr. Kimberley O'Brien, and I'll see you next time.


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