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Confidence and Risk-Taking

young child plays with pans

About this Video

This Early Learning Moment provides an overview of the Confidence & Risk-Taking section of the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age 3. This section describes how infants and toddlers develop confidence in exploring new experiences and take developmentally appropriate risks. As children develop new skills, they build understanding about the world around them. As children grow, they feel more comfortable playing alongside friends and trying new motor skills.


Explanation of the Confidence and Risk Taking subsection

As children grow, they learn about their world. Tiny infants begin to explore their world by looking around, listening to sounds, and watching their caregiver’s expressions. They need their caregivers to tune into their cues, and when their caregivers respond quickly and regularly, they develop a sense of self-worth and learn to trust.

In the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age 3, the terms confidence and risk taking are used to describe a child’s growing sense of self-worth and desire to try out her expanding skills and test her new understandings of the world.

Confidence refers to the feeling of self-worth and courage that a young child has that he can explore the world and figure out how things work.

Risk taking refers to an infant’s or toddler’s desire to go out and explore the world. To explore independently, she may need to leave the physical and emotional safety of her primary caregiver’s presence. For an infant or toddler, even exploring across the room from her caregiver can be a big step toward independence. She will look back to her caregiver and depend on her caregiver for guidance and support. As she explores, she takes chances by trying new things and makes discoveries about how the world works.

The Illinois Early Learning Guidelines present the following indicators for children in the area of confidence and risk-taking, which is part of the Approaches to Learning section of the guidelines. These indicators describe skills, behaviors, and knowledge that children exhibit in confidence and risk taking during the age ranges listed.

Indicators for children

Birth to 9 months

  • 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

7 to 18 months

  • 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

16 to 24 months

  • 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

21 to 36 months

  • 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

Setting Up for Success

There are many ways caregivers can set up the environment so a child can be successful. Caregivers can also interact with children in ways that will support their development.

Caregivers can set the stage for interaction by:

  • Sitting close to the child so interactions are possible
  • Providing objects that are appropriate to the child’s age and development
  • Physically supporting the child to allow interaction

Caregivers can maintain the child’s interest and attention by:

  • Showing interest in the child
  • Encouraging the child
  • Responding to and being sensitive to the child’s emotions
  • Introducing new activities when needed

Caregivers can take turns by:

  • Responding to the child’s initiations
  • Establishing routines
  • Letting the child know that a response is expected and waiting for a response
  • Imitating the child and waiting for a response

Caregivers can match and follow by:

  • Observing the child and joining in the activity/interaction
  • Following the child’s lead
  • Commenting on the child’s activities

Caregivers can support learning by:

  • Elaborating on communication attempts
  • Adding new actions or elements to known routines
  • Balancing support with expectations
  • Presenting “dilemmas” for the child to solve

Self-Assessment and Reflection

We have watched several children playing. We have considered the ways their teachers and caregivers supported their learning and set up an environment that promotes their self-confidence and willingness to take risks as they explore. Now, consider your own interactions with children.

Does your space have:

  • Materials children can choose and reach independently?
  • Enough materials for children to share?
  • Pictures to help children find things and put them away?
  • Cozy spaces for quiet play and access to spaces that allow energetic movement, such as the outdoors or a gym?
  • Spaces for children to be together and places to be alone?

Are you ready to:

  • Observe and consider the reasons behind children’s behavior?
  • Watch and wait, but provide help and encouragement if needed?
  • Take turns in play and conversation with children?
  • Follow children’s ideas in play?”

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Reviewed: 2021