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Children demonstrate a willingness to participate in new experiences and confidently engage in risktaking.

Children build their confidence through their relationships with nurturing and responsive caregivers. Caregivers who are attuned to children’s needs and respond consistently and promptly, nurture feelings of self-worth in children. Children learn to feel that they are important, and they learn to trust. This builds the self-confidence that is needed for them to take on developmentally appropriate risks. These risks include developmental tasks such as crawling, walking, playing, trying new experiences, and building relationships with peers.

At first, children use their confidence to take on physical risks. Between nine and 12 months of age, children experiment with moving objects in different ways, such as pushing and throwing. They also master skills such as crawling and walking. They attempt and work on these skills in the context of secure relationships. Once children accomplish skills, caregivers can share in children’s excitement, further building their confidence and sense of mastery for new skills to come. Around 18 to 24 months of age, they begin to take on emotional risks. They begin to play farther and farther away from their caregivers, but will still check in as needed. Between 24 and 36 months, children initiate interaction with peers, and attempt to tackle challenges on their own before reaching out to caregivers.

Caregivers play an important role in fostering confidence in children. They need to be sensitive to children’s temperament and comfort levels in new situations. Children can become overwhelmed with their growing abilities and may display frustration or fear at times. When caregivers are sensitive to children’s temperament, feelings, and comfort level, children feel safe and supported, and confidently engage in new experiences at their own pace.

A Perspective on Risk-Taking

The term “risk-taking” can be a bit unsettling for caregivers. Caregivers work hard to ensure that children always remain safe and secure. However, developmentally appropriate risk-taking is a positive and natural behavior in children. When children feel trust in their caregivers and feel confident in their own abilities, they take on the necessary risks to learn new skills. With caregivers’ support and encouragement, children attempt to master new skills and, when they are successful, build feelings of pride and self-worth.

Risk-taking refers not only to physical risks such as crawling and walking. Risk-taking also refers to the emotional risks that children take through their relationships with others. For example, a 12-month-old takes on an emotional risk when he or she relies on another person, different from their caregiver, to provide care. These are important risks children need to take to develop healthy social relationships in the future.

Birth to 9 months

Children begin to build confidence through the everyday interactions they experience with their caregivers. These interactions form special relationships, which in turn build the “secure base” for children to take risks and try new experiences.

Indicators for children include:

  • Cries and/or uses body language to signal and get needs met, e.g., averts gaze, arches back
  • Explores new objects with eagerness, e.g., squeals and/or squeezes a toy
  • Uses different approaches for accomplishing a simple task, e.g., reaching, kicking, vocalizing
  • Attempts new skills on his or her own while “checking in” with a familiar adult, e.g., a new crawler begins to move, then turns toward the caregiver for reassurance before crawling away

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide nurturing and consistent care in order to build the child’s self-confidence
  • Create an environment where the child has access to age-appropriate toys
  • Use nonverbal and verbal cues to encourage and support the child as he or she engages in a new activity, e.g., smile, nod, clap
  • Provide support in new situations, while allowing the child room to explore new objects

7 months to 18 months

Children begin to use their developing confidence to engage in simple risk-taking behavior as they physically explore their environment in the context of a secure relationship.

Indicators for children include:

  • Begins to take great risks with little regard for danger, e.g., lunging off a couch to reach for an object
  • Becomes more intentional and confident when playing and interacting, e.g., grabs, pushes, throws
  • Uses trial and error to solve a problem, e.g., tries different angles when attempting to place a shape in a shape sorter

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide an interesting and safe environment for the child to explore; remain watchful and intervene when needed to keep the child safe
  • Recognize that the child needs time to adjust to new skills, e.g., the child can suddenly become frightened by his or her expanding capabilities
  • Encourage the child to try new ways of doing things

16 months to 24 months

Children increase their confidence in the context of a secure relationship, and begin to engage in more complex tasks and seek out new situations.

Indicators for children include:

  • Plays and explores farther away from attachment figure; continues to “check in” for reassurance, e.g., plays across the room and glances toward caregiver, then re-engages in playing
  • Seeks out assistance and reassurance from familiar others
  • Demonstrates confidence in abilities and achievements, e.g., cheers or claps when accomplishing a goal such as completing a simple puzzle
  • Joins in a new activity after cautiously observing at first

Strategies for interaction

  • Remain available for the child during play; use reassuring cues to encourage the child to explore, e.g., smile, nod, and clap
  • Provide materials and activities that are challenging but not frustrating, e.g., large blocks, a simple puzzle
  • Be sensitive to the child’s temperament; recognize that the child may need some time to engage in a new experience; allow the child to observe until he or she is ready to take part

21 months to 36 months

Children use their confidence to begin taking emotional risks in addition to physical risks, with support from their caregiver(s).

Indicators for children include:

  • Attempts to independently resolve social conflicts without automatically running to the caregiver, e.g., tries to retrieve an object that was taken away by a peer
  • Demonstrates eagerness and determination when problem- solving during new tasks, e.g., the child who pushes the caregiver’s hand away and refuses help until he or she is ready to ask for it

Strategies for interaction

  • Validate the emotions the child is feeling, e.g., “I can see you are upset that your toy was taken away from you.”
  • Model thoughtful and polite behavior through everyday interactions
  • Provide the child with opportunities to problem-solve on their own, intervening only when the child appears to become frustrated and/or asks for help
Reviewed: 2012