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Why is one child a risk taker and the other a couch potato?

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Nature, nurture or Both?

Every day mothers across the country and across the world marvel: How can two children from the same home be so different?! Same mother, same father, same household expectations….yet one is a risk-taker and would think nothing of jumping on a skateboard without a helmet to try a major hill and the other is firmly attached to the relative safety of the couch and thinks adventure is trying a new video game. One craves adrenaline and the other fears it. As a mom, how do you handle these two very risk-different kids and their very different comfort zones? How do you help you kids balance their inherent risk-taking natures?

boy-skateboarding

Scientists and parents have long wondered what elements of kids' personalities are nature and which are nurture. It's likely a bit of both, really. In characteristics such as risk-taking, the difference in kids can seem dramatic and seem all nature. But can you nurture risk-taking up or down? Do you need to?

1Is it really a problem?

Before anything else, you first need to determine if you really have a problem in this difference between your kids -- or you're just doing the classic mommy worry thing. If, on level, each child is acting in an age appropriate manner, has some balance between active and inactive times and isn't taking adrenaline inducing or avoiding behaviors to extremes, try to stop worrying. Your children are just different. Although it's totally in a mom's nature to worry, let them be their different, unique selves. And besides, our families and our world would be so, so boring if we were all exactly the same.

2Start a conversation

Start a conversation with both children individually about your concerns for their relative risk-taking or risk avoidance. There may be a simple answer for why your child is or is not doing this or that -- and you can act from there. You may be able to channel your child's energies in a way that feels more balanced for you and your family as a whole.

3Set guidelines -- in both directions

Whether you wish your more sedentary child would be more active and try to kick a soccer ball every now and again, or your adrenaline junkie would sit and read a book without it being homework, you need to set some guidelines. The guidelines will vary by child and circumstance and may involve some creative schedule juggling by you.

For your sedentary child, try establishing some activity guidelines that must be met before those preferred couch-based activities can be engaged. Whether it's participation in a team or individual sport or just plain outdoor activity for a set amount of time each day, staying active on some level is part of a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps you and your child just haven't found the right activity? Is it time to explore new activity opportunities? Marital arts? Live Action Role Play? Something else?

For your more active, risk-seeking child, the guidelines might need to be the reverse: A certain amount of calmer activity and/or homework -- and understanding of safety guidelines -- before the skateboard pads go on.

Just by insisting on these guidelines, you are helping your child to move out of his or her comfort zone and take a risk: One risks actually liking physical activity, and one risks actually getting into a book or quiet activity like he or she never knew before.

4Careful what you wish for!

Like your mom said to you, be careful what to wish for. Of course we worry -- we're moms! You may wish that your risk averse child learn to take more risks and your risk taker settle down a bit and steer them in those directions. Then again, you may end up with the pendulum swinging dramatically the other way for one or both children, with a completely new set of challenges.

Before angsting too much about the difference in your children, determine whether it's really a problem. If there is some balance there, the differences are not extreme and excessively unhealthy, perhaps the better thing to do would be to celebrate their differences.

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