Playing It Safe

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools, and families to prioritize play every day.

Fresh air...freedom...time to let your mind inexplicable sense of The definition and essence may vary from person to person, but play is an activity for both growth and recreation. Children are naturals at embracing play but with adulthood, a sharpened sense of awareness seems to complicate the matter as grown-ups may look to minimize “risky play”.



There is growing debate over whether children should be permitted to experience potential risk in play, or if safety truly does “come first”. Outdoor and physical play encourage children to find and explore personal boundaries. As children test their limits, risk is imminent.  No parent wants to expose their child to potential danger, but it is developmentally appropriate for children to experience and explore risk while playing (with proper supervision) so they can learn to manage it.  

Managing risk during  play is crucial to the development of many social, psychological, and physical attributes including, but not limited to:  

  • Balance
  • Empathy
  • Problem-Solving
  • Self-Confidence
  • Self-Control

Competence in these areas is universally beneficial and these skills will grow with a child throughout their lifetime.    



What is the best way to promote play that encourages children to safely learn risk management? According to the Injury Prevention Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, adults should: encourage safety, but not to the effect of hindering learning. For instance, walking alongside children as they learn to manage risk is natural, but caregivers must decide when to observe and when to intercede.  

The Injury Prevention Department recommends watching children closely as they play, but allowing play experiences be child-led. In other words, if children are beginning to work out a problem on their own, let them see it through. When you truly feel the need to lean in, trust your instincts and work within a child’s play atmosphere to provide input. Finding a balance can be trying, but increasing self-confidence and independence in a child benefits both him or her and you as the caregiver.



One instance where caregivers may want to intervene is when a play situation becomes harmful. Adults should gently explain dangers and offer less harmful alternatives. By demonstrating appropriate risk-taking and openly discussing it, caregivers can acknowledge how to respect one’s own boundaries and the boundaries of others. 

There is also a critical social aspect to helping your child learn to manage risk. As a lead agency supporting six centers in the Allegheny County Family Support Network, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC encourages families to make positive social connections to build strong communities. These positive social ties can lay the foundation for both superior parenting and better living. 



To provide a better life for our children, we must recognize that parents and primary caregivers are a child’s first teachers, and that children learn through risky play. Thus, parents and caregivers have the necessary role of encouraging children to play and explore while carefully watching them find their way. Remember to demonstrate, rather than tell what you know and most importantly, have fun! After all, play is not just for kids.

For more information on the Injury Prevention Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, please visit