Talking to Families About Dignity of Risk

Apr 19, 2022

Talking to Families About Dignity of Risk
The default for almost all families is to protect their children from harm; it’s just good parenting to keep our toddlers from walking in traffic or touching electrical appliances. Some families take the role of protector to extremes, becoming helicopter parents who try to shield their children from all experiences that they perceive to be negative. In the case of families with children who have disabilities and learning differences, the temptation to overprotect is natural and understandable, so when educators meet with families to discuss a child’s IEP or progress, it can be helpful to introduce the concept of the dignity of risk. 

The following is a powerful introduction to help families understand the importance of supporting students to embrace the dignity of risk. This list by Linda Stengle, describes the importance of reasonable risk taking in terms that families will recognize and understand. 
  • What if you never got to make a mistake?
  • What if your money was always kept in an envelope where you couldn't get it?   
  • What if you were never given a chance to do well at something?
  • What if your only chance to be with people different from you was with your own family?
  • What if the job you did was not useful?
  • What if you never got to make a decision?
  • What if the only risky thing you could do was act out?
  • What if you couldn't go outside because the last time you went, it rained?
  • What if you took the wrong bus once and now you can't take another one?
  • What if you got into trouble and were sent away and you couldn't come back because you’re labeled as a troublemaker?
  • What if you had no privacy?
  • What if you could do part of the grocery shopping but weren't allowed because you couldn't do all of the shopping?
  • What if you spent three hours every day just waiting?
  • What if you grew old and never knew adulthood?
  • What if you never got a chance?

Once families understand that the opportunity to be challenged and possibly to fail are steps in the growth process toward adulthood, school teams can then design scaffolded lessons that will engage and challenge all students. 

Resource for extra reading: The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults by Debra Moore and Temple Grandin

List reprinted from the New Mexico Development Disabilities Supports Division – Meaningful Day from Laying Community Foundations for Your Child with a Disability by Linda Stengle
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