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Anxiety and Risk Mastering Fear
Emotional Development
16 April 2024

Anxiety and Risk : Mastering Fear

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Anxiety in children is a rising concern, with it now being the most common disorder experienced by young people. Of course there’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety, and at Risky Kids we work hard to help young people and their families to not just learn how this feels, but how to master it.


Explore the increasing concern of anxiety in children, emphasising the importance of distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy anxiety to effectively master it. At Risky Kids, strategies are employed to help children and their families understand and cope with anxiety by encouraging resilience through risk-taking and experiential learning.

  • Resilience Development: Encouraging resilience in children by facing challenges helps manage anxiety.
  • Role of Anxiety: Anxiety serves as a signal for potential dangers, both physical and emotional.
  • Healthy vs. Unhealthy Anxiety: Differentiating between constructive anxiety that prompts action and detrimental anxiety that leads to avoidance.
  • Experiential Learning: Risky Kids uses real-life experiences to teach children about managing anxiety and stress.
  • Empowering Techniques: Programs at Risky Kids focus on building skills and mindset to handle anxiety positively.

Anxiety and Risk : Mastering Fear

Explore the rising levels of anxiety among young people, emphasising the need to build resilience and manage stress healthily through facing risks.

  • Resilience as Key Factor: Diminishing resilience majorly contributes to increased anxiety.
  • Modern Pressures: High expectations and less outdoor play stress young individuals.
  • Positive Role of Anxiety: Anxiety, when managed, can enhance resilience and personal growth.

Young people from the age of about 5 and up are experiencing greater and greater levels of anxiety. This is connected to a variety of factors, but in particular diminishing resilience is considered one of the biggest factors. Resilience is what means that regardless of what life throws at us, we can adjust.

Increased screen time, diminished outdoor play, greater and greater pressures on parents and teachers to be “perfect” at parenting and raising children means that young people are getting pulled in all directions.

However we’ve also learned that anxiety and stress can play critical roles in building our resilience. In order to beat anxiety, we have to work with it and accept it as a part of our humanity. At Risky Kids we’re leading the way in finding and understanding the healthiest way to achieve this, through risk!

Isn’t Making Kids Feel Anxiety Harmful?

There’s a misconception that inducing anxiety in children is entirely negative. Instead, when balanced there’s benefits to experiencing and managing it properly.

  • Variety of Anxiety Levels: Anxiety varies; even simple interactions can induce stress.
  • Healthy Anxiety Benefits: Properly managed anxiety aids in overcoming challenges and growth.
  • No Long-term Harm: Experiencing reasonable anxiety does not cause long-term negative effects.

It’s something we’ve been asked before, that making kids experience anxiety isn’t helpful or beneficial. It’s not as simple as that, because there’s all types of emotions and degrees of anxiety. Simply meeting a new person can make us anxious!

Helping young people to experience the healthy anxiety that accompanies challenge and adversity, in order to understand and master it, isn’t a straightforward process and if done incorrectly can make things worse.

The short answer is no, experiencing anxiety, even high doses, isn’t something which compromises us as a person or even has negative long term effects. Many people who go through terrible things excel in life. Our goal is to help young people to be their best, and accept and embrace every part of themselves, even the tough parts.

Anxiety Is Adaptive In More Ways Than One

Anxiety as a natural and functional alert system in our brains, not merely a malfunction.

  • Anxiety Signals Danger: Alerts us to potential harms, prompting necessary actions.
  • Enhances Cognitive Abilities: Managed anxiety improves focus, speed, and reaction.
  • Boosts Performance: Properly controlled stress can significantly enhance goal achievement.

Anxiety isn’t just an error in our brain or processing. It’s part of a program that has very specific roles and responsibilities. Like any program though there can be bugs and errors. Anxiety has the role of telling us when there’s something that could harm us, to draw our attention to it.

That could be physical danger, like something hot or a high fall, or it could be something emotional or social like somebody yelling at us or the fear of failure. These trigger anxiety to prompt action. That action then needs to be decided by a thinking process. When these two work together, it protects us from being hurt and helps us navigate towards our goals.

Anxiety and stress will also kick into gear a whole host of chemical and physical processes. We focus more, we think quicker and we can act faster. If we can manage these reactions, then stress will actually enhance our performance, helping us achieve goals which might have otherwise been unattainable.

When it Goes Wrong

Excessive anxiety can lead to avoidance behaviours that may hinder personal growth and opportunities.

  • Overactive Anxiety: Can cause irrational fears and avoidance behaviours.
  • Avoidance of Positive Experiences: Fear of rejection may prevent forming new relationships.
  • Comfort Trap: Avoidance can become a comfortable but harmful cycle, especially for youth.

Like most parts of being a human, things don’t always go according to plan though! Anxiety can be too overactive, it can make us fear things which we shouldn’t or it might make us fear things too much. When fear or anxiety drives us away, it triggers “avoidance behaviour”. This is anything which tries to diminish the anxiety, often without consideration of the cost.

This means that we might avoid things that are good for us. Because we’re afraid of rejection, we might avoid trying to meet new people and make new friends. If we’re afraid of failure, we might not put all of our effort into something that we want to succeed at.

The biggest danger of this is that when anxiety starts to work in this way, it makes us comfortable. When you remove discomfort and replace it with comfort it creates a reinforcing cycle. Especially with young people, we begin to find it difficult to separate healthy avoidance, with unhealthy.

Balancing Healthy and Unhealthy

Managing stress and anxiety is a learnable skill that enhances personal development and growth.

  • Understanding Anxiety: Identify real reasons behind feelings of uncertainty.
  • Decision-Making for Growth: Choose growth over comfort in decision-making.
  • Breaking Avoidance Patterns: Use experiential learning to normalise and manage anxiety effectively.

It’s achievable though! Like anything, managing our stress and anxiety is a skill and one that can be both taught and learned. By challenging ourselves we create opportunities to navigate these feelings and learn to manage them, all while achieving growth and goals.

We can learn to balance unhealthy avoidance by:

  • Finding the “Grain of Truth” about why we’re feeling uncertain or anxious,
  • Making decisions based on growth and opportunity, not on comfort,
  • Finding ways that work for us to reduce stress such as mindfulness or breathing exercises,
  • Working with people who are patient and understanding, but also who challenge us,
  • Identifying and breaking patterns of avoidance, considering each situation on it’s individual merits,

These are some of the tools we can use to manage our anxiety. However one of the best ways is through experiential learning. By experiencing these emotions we can learn how they feel, normalise them and understand how to use them to help us grow.

Anxiety and Participation Refusal

Liam and A Fear of Failure

One of our Risky Kids, Liam, had a lot of trouble in classes. His anxiety would manifest in such a powerful way that if he ever failed at something, even just coming off a balance beam, he would run to the corner of the training space, curl into a ball and cry. Liam wasn’t young either, he was 9yo so this was a strong pattern of behaviour.

Liam was overwhelmed by his fear of failure. He would often explain how at home and at a school he “wasn’t allowed to fail and had to be perfect”. His family was confused about this, because they never said this and promoted growth mindset traits all the time. The origin of Liam’s pattern wasn’t as important as working through it though.

The team tried a whole range of strategies, using all of their patience and compassion and tools at their disposal. They would mentor him before class, they would work to help prepare him for challenges, they would try 1:1 sessions with him but nothing seemed to resolve this fear of failure for him. Some weeks he would be better, and others he would struggle more. He was improving slowly, the team helped him identify thoughts and fears as they came up and then excise them through challenges.

His family had to move away though after about a year and a half. Suddenly Liam’s progress skyrocketed, he wasn’t afraid in classes any more, when he failed he wasn’t upset and he was laughing and excited. He asked to do extra sessions in his final few weeks before he moved away. The team helped him to reflect on this, and that because he was leaving, the fear of failure suddenly lifted away.

Even though he was leaving the club, he was able to come face to face with that fear and experience the joy of not being overwhelmed by it. All the work the team had put in paid off, without it he would never have been able to feel this way at the end.

The “Toughening Up” Process

Experiencing moderate stress and anxiety can enhance resilience and neurobiological toughness.

  • “Toughening Up” Process: Healthy stress strengthens mind and body resilience.
  • Neurobiological Desensitization: Repeated mild stress reduces sensitivity to anxiety.
  • Necessity of Risk: Facing challenges early is crucial for mental health and resilience.

There’s also a powerful effect that happens in our minds and our nervous systems when we experience stress and anxiety in a healthy fashion. This is known as the “toughening up” process, where our mind and body become more resilient.

Our mind will not only develop new strategies and ways of thinking to be able to manage these challenging feelings, but each time we go through a (reasonably) stressful situation our very neurobiology becomes less sensitive. It becomes less affected by the experience of stress and anxiety.

This is why avoiding stress and anxiety completely is unhealthy, especially when people are young. It’s a necessary and developmental part of growing up that we face challenges and tough feelings. This is why risk taking when we’re young is one of the cornerstones of resilience and preventing mental illness.

The Risky Kids Clubs

Risky Kids’ has innovative approaches to help young people constructively manage anxiety through purposeful activities and comprehensive training.

  • Purposeful Skill Development: Mastering skills helps understand and manage anxiety.
  • Holistic Program Design: Combines movement, mindset training, and emotional learning.
  • Specialised Support Team: Trained in diverse techniques to foster a supportive environment.

It’s not just about forcing kids to face anxiety though! There’s powerful techniques to help young people to experience these feelings in a positive, empowering way. One of the key components is to give it a purpose. Learning a new skill, such as mastering our bodies is a powerful way to face and understand these feelings. That skill can even be understanding our minds and anxiety better!

Risky Kids combines this in all of our programs, using accessible and global movement styles combined with dedicated Mindset training and discussions based on what is best for young people. This creates an interventionary and experiential process, where we stop disorders or unhealthy thinking or behaviour from emerging in the first place.

This is provided by a specially trained team who are given skills ranging from emotional regulation, to counselling techniques and mentoring skills (even motivational speaking!). All of this combines creates the perfect community to explore anxiety and all emotions (boredom, frustration, triumph) in a positive and empowering way.


We shouldn’t fear anxiety, it’s actually the key to our resilience. We need to experience it not only so that we can come to understand it, but to receive the physiological and behavioural benefits that it results in.

We do have to help young people to face these feelings, regardless of what form it might take. Avoidance behaviour can pop up as quitting behaviour, “I’m bored” language or just sadness.

We can and must help young people to work through these moments, and those moments often become some of the most important to us as parents or educators as we see young people triumph and grow.

Richard Williams

Richard Williams

Risky Kids Founder, Director of Programming

Richard Williams is a fitness industry consultant, gym owner, business coach and professional stunt actor with more than a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry. With an education in psychology and criminology, Richard blended life experience as a fitness industry consultant with Spartan Race, gym owner, elite-obstacle racer, ultra-runner and professional stunt actor to create the Risky Kids program.

Richard has a passion for enacting meaningful social change through all avenues of health and wellbeing and believes that obstacles are the way. Some of Richard’s key achievements include:

  • Key consultant/coordinator Spartan Race/Tough Mudder/Extreme Endurance
  • OCR World Championship Finalist –  Team & Solo (2015)
  • OCR World Championship Silver Medallist – Team Endurance (2018)
  • Professional film and television stunt performer for 15 years

Considered one of Australia’s foremost experts in the fields of fitness, wellbeing and behavioural science, Richard is frequently in demand as a guest speaker for relevant government and non-
government bodies and organisations. Speaking engagements centred on the success of the Risky Kids program, philosophy and approach have included:

  • Expert speaker/panellist Sports & Camp; Recreation Victoria and Outdoors Victoria forums
  • Closing expert speaker at the Australian Camps Association National Conference
  • Expert speaker at the National Fitness Expo, FILEX