Why you might want to reconsider saying 'be careful' to your children

Kids feel empowered when they are given a little freedom to test their physical limits.

Why you might want to reconsider saying 'be careful' to your children

If you have a child that is of walking age, you're probably familiar with this scenario: You are on the playground with your toddler, and she decides that going down the slide is now too mundane and decides to climb UP the slide.

In your head, you know that the unspoken rule of playgrounds is to only go down the slide, but no one else is around. Plus you are secretly proud of your child for the persistence it takes to go up the slide.

What to do? Encourage persistence and thinking outside the box or stick with the "rules" of play etiquette?


While this is a simple scenario, the larger issue at work here is actually quite telling—should we, as parents, encourage play that might be considered "risky" or do we stick to the norms of our "safe" society?

In media commentary right now there does seem to be a clear divide between the free-range parents who allow their children to go to the park alone or ride the subway unattended and the helicopter parents who hover over every action, independent step or playground fall. In reality, however, there is always a happy medium between these two extremes.

One tool we have on our side in this debate is research. With the help of research, we can help understand the difference between unsafe play activities, and those that may seem risky but might actually offer some real benefits. Researchers are beginning to look at the outcomes for kids who engage in more "risky" play, and the results might surprise you.

It's worth noting that in these studies risky play was defined as activities like playing at heights, rough-and-tumble play, and play in risk-supportive environments (e.g., adventure playground).

The developmental benefits of risky play

1. Builds confidence

Imagine how your toddler feels when she actually does make it UP the slide by herself. Most likely she beams with pride. This is the type of confidence researchers say that risky play helps build. It's a confidence built by persistence, but also by an unspoken understanding that you trust her to handle herself in a new arena.

This is a contrast to more typical ways of playing in which the parent is monitoring every action for fear of risk. Scholars point out that this sends a message to the child that maybe they cannot trust their own feelings or judgment about what feels unsafe.

2. Encourages more active play

This was one of the clearest aspects of the research findings. Kids who engage in risky play tend to be more active in their play. Some of this has to do with the fact that these kids are typically allowed more independent mobility than other kids. These are the kids who are allowed to walk alone to a friend's house or play at a neighborhood park alone.

Additionally, the studies showed that kids tend to be more active when playing at adventure playgrounds that involve "risky" elements such as old tires, recycled pieces, etc. compared to playing at traditional playgrounds with play structures.

This is not meant to imply that you should allow your 2-year-old to play at a junkyard with a pile of tools, but it does show that kids really want a challenge. We have all seen middle schoolers climbing on TOP of a playhouse or fence line at a playground. This research has us consider that maybe they are just looking for a more challenging physical outlet.

Kids feel empowered when they are given a little freedom to test their physical limits. It turns out, this physical challenge also probably makes them healthier too by encouraging activity.

3. Establishes internal limits

It's counterintuitive, but risky play actually makes kids safer in the long-term. By experimenting with tolerable risk, kids get a better sense of their internal and physical limits. Climbing to the top of a playscape might frighten some 2-year-olds, but for others it's exhilarating and confidence-building. Each child has to figure out these limits for themselves (at age-appropriate levels of course).

Research studies that followed over 25,000 kids found that there was no link between risky play (i.e., playing at higher heights) and increased risk of injury. The frequency of bone fractures was unrelated to the height of playground equipment.

Some researchers have even argued that by denying kids opportunities to deal with tolerable risk, they are denied the chance to face a fear and overcome it. Without this exposure, some kids may internalize fear more which can lead to anxiety disorders.

4. Promotes social skills

It might seem odd that risky play can improve social skills, but there seems to be a link, at least with certain types of play. Rough-and-tumble play is correlated with better social competence, especially among boys. Furthermore, it was not linked to higher levels of aggression.

You can imagine why this is the case: Generally speaking, rough-and-tumble play is the norm among boys (gender stereotypes notwithstanding), so this activity is linked to social skills because it is one of the primary ways boys play and interact in social settings.

In other words, it seems that this rough-and-tumble play helps kids learn about social boundaries, reading emotions, and regulating their own emotions, especially anger. Although it just seems like fun play to us, kids are subtly learning about social negotiation and how to determine when the play has gone too far.

5. Encourages creativity

Risky play can foster new ways of thinking and creativity as kids are put into situations that are outside the norm of their usual environments. On an ordinary playground, kids have few problems to solve or new situations to manage—most kids have experienced slides, swings and play structures before.

However, in a more "risky" setting such as an adventure playground or lake setting, the inherent dilemmas of nature are present. Kids must use creative thinking and problem solving to determine how many kids can stand on a fallen tree before it gives way. Kids learn through trial-and-error how close they can get to the edge of the lake before they bog down in mud. These seem like simple activities but for young children, they are brain-building.

One study found that kids were more creative in their thinking when playing on playgrounds that included "loose parts" (e.g., old tires, boxes, etc.). Although these items had no obvious play value, kids included them in all types of creative ways in their play narratives.

We all want to keep our kids safe, but as in all things parenting, balance is key. By balancing safety and exploration, our kids can benefit from learning how to manage a bit of risk and build skills that will aid them for the years ahead.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

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This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

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Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.


Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.


Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.


The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

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You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.


The Snoo bassinet


Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!


Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

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The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.


Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!


Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.


Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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