Safety vs. developing independence

January 7, 2022

How do you keep your loved one safe while enabling them to develop their independence?

If you want to learn how you can stop overprotecting your loved one and limiting their life experiences click the video below or scroll down and read more…

If you’d like to register for the upcoming Growing Independence Workshop, click the link below:


Written transcript/ article:

How do you keep your loved one with a developmental disability safe while enabling them to grow their independence? There seems to be tension between safety and independence that we experience as families.

I’m Eric Goll, family member and family coach. And I want to talk about how you can increase your loved one’s safety while growing their independence.

Many families I’ve spoken with believe that if they allow their loved one to develop their independence, they experience dangerous or vulnerable situations. And when we hold this belief, we overprotect our loved one, and do not allow them to grow their independence. So our way of keeping our family member safe blocks developing independence. And they are held back because they aren’t getting life experiences, the opportunity to solve problems and learn from those experiences.

Now, put yourself in your loved one’s shoes by thinking about what this would look like and feel like for yourself. Imagine if you had someone constantly looking over you to ensure that you were safe. No, you can’t go to the store; I need to go with you. You can’t do whatever it is that you want to do. You can’t go to that concert, you can’t go to the theatre, you can’t use the knife, you can’t use that dish. Where there is a perceived risk, you’re overprotected from that risk. If that happened in your life, how would that make you feel? It would probably make you feel pretty constrained. And with the inability to do those things, life would likely become maybe a little bit more boring, and you might be going inside of yourself a little bit more.

It gets you thinking.

And what I want to talk to you about today is providing your loved one the dignity of risk. So it’s this idea that we need to experience a little bit of risk in our lives because that gives us fulfillment and agency. It empowers us.

What does this look like with your loved one? Well, it looks like your loved one is taking managed risks. You’re not going to put your loved one in a situation where there will be severe detrimental consequences if they fail.

But what are the opportunities where loved one can take a lower risk? If they fall, they dust off, get a pep talk, and you try it again. That’s what the dignity of risk is all about. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a safety net or have safeguards or protection or any measures in place. But how do we think about loosening our grip to give our loved one more opportunity to experience some risk, experience failure, and learn from it?

Wouldn’t you rather your loved one experience these risks and to be able to experience failure to be falling and learning while you are there to support them, right versus not having the risk exposure, and maybe being overprotected, until a time when you can no longer provide that protection? And then who’s going to give that protection that your loved one hasn’t learned to maybe manage or protect themselves from?

If exposed to managed risk, your loved one will be safer in the short term and the long term. If your loved one learns to fail, get back up and dust themselves off, and learn developmental safeguards that will help keep them safe, your loved one is going to be safer because they’re going to be their own first line of defence.

If you’re interested in learning more about growing your loved one’s independence, I’ve got an upcoming workshop called the growing independence workshop that I think will be helpful for you. And I’ll tell you more about it in the coming weeks. So keep your eye out for it.

And I’d love it if you scroll down and let me know what was helpful for you in this video. I’m Eric Goll. Together, let’s take a small step forward this week.

If you’d like to register for the upcoming Growing Independence Workshop, click the link below:


  • It’s all right to worry and think about safety, but not to the point it trumps and gets in the way of everything else! ”Safety first” has become ”safety only” in most cases. While being a daredevil is not a good idea, trying to eliminate all risks entirely isn’t good either. We need some risk to advance and grow. If humans never took unseen risks, nobody would have left southern Africa!

    We really should get rid of our safety only mentality, it’s making people physically and emotionally weaker, helps prevent new governance systems from being tried, has slowed crewed space travel to a crawl limited to low Earth orbit (instead of returning to the Moon and going further afield like the Apollo missions had us hyped about), is the main reasons we’re being stripped of our civil liberties, etc. I get safety is important, but the extent we are bubble-wrapping ourselves and our children is absurd!

  • Managed risks – much easier said than done. Personally, I think the biggest hindrance is my own fear for my son’s safety. Between impulsiveness, potential seizures, cognitive delays, fine motor issues – safety is one HUGE consideration and my fear plays a big part in what and how much happens. I have been trying to do independence skills particularly in the kitchen. I have special knives for him so he cannot cut himself (but the knives are actually quite good!). But handling the stove, using hot pads, lighting the burners – all terrify me. Making a mistake is one thing, burning himself on spilled food or the flame – quite another! I know, baby steps. But baby steps for me as well!

  • I sometimes feel you don’t give enough focus on what supports are in place (family or other offering some or a little coaching) and that sometimes the learning doesn’t happen. Mistakes and sometimes cumulative risk and trouble happen.

  • Thank you for the reminder,

    Yes managed risks!
    Easier said then done but I will keep this in mind as a next step now 2 workers have know Ryan for 2 months! They are capable but mindfulness is hard to teach when you are busy learning the physical needs!

    Have a good day stay safe!

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}