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  • Writer's pictureFiona Holiday

The Importance of Mild Peril

Tight rope walking

How often do you feel exhilarated during your day? What brings that burst of energy?

I spent some time away walking recently and noticed how much more I enjoyed the times when I had needed to push myself out of my comfort zone. The times when I had experienced some mild peril.

These were times when it FELT dangerous to do something - like when I had to leap across a small stream flowing into the sea on the beach. The stream stopped me in my tracks. I wasn't going to be able to make it across without testing my jumping ability, balance and waterproof boots. There was peril - getting my feet wet wasn't an appealing idea - but it wasn't dangerous in a serious way. When I had scrabbled to the other side and the sand had almost collapsed beneath me, I was exhilarated. I felt emboldened. Where was the next challenge coming from? I can do this!

Sometimes when we watch children play, we see them engage in activities which might involve some mild peril. Risky but not significantly dangerous. Why are we humans driven to do this?

Jaak Pankepp's work on the motivations for behaviour gives us a clue in the 'seeking' impulse. In order to survive, we needed to seek out new places, new relationships, new experiences. Seeking is a key survival skill. When we engage in a little mild peril, we are pushing boundaries and growing. We are learning more about our capabilities and the world around us.

There is also a benefit in being able to experience feeling fear and carrying on. Play is a great way for us to practise being frightened in a safe way. This rehearsal is immensely helpful in our emotional development.

When we are in control of the scale, the timing and the location of a challenge, when we have an underlying feeling and knowing of our safety, then we can achieve more than we thought possible.

Where are the opportunities for us to experience challenge? How do we provide environments for children which will allow an experience of 'mild peril'? How do we notice and reflect the experiences that children have of being brave in the face of something which scares them a little?

Keep on the lookout for the moments of mild peril: they are more important than you think.

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