Free-range Parenting

The girls playing outside by themselves.

The girls playing outside by themselves.

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I’ve mentioned the blog Free-range Kids on here before, but I realized that I hadn’t ever really delved into why I love it. So here we go!

I first came across Free-range Kids when Twig kept falling down the stairs. First off, calm down. Our house is a split level, so we only have 6 stairs in each staircase. I check her every time she falls and the only time that she’s fallen all the way from the top, she’s made her way to the doctor (and was just fine). We do not have gates at the top or bottom of either case and I was beginning to doubt myself.

You see, when deciding if my kids should be allowed to do something, I ask myself “Will it send them to the ER?” If the answer is no, it’ll make them cry and I’ll have to console them and then they’re fine, they get to do it. If the answer is a trip straight to the ER being very likely (not likely in a sense that if they fall in just the right way they could break something), such as crossing the road without holding my hand, then it’s a no go on the safety front. Yes, this means that my children climb on the coffee table, but I don’t mind it. Of course there are other things they’re not allowed to do even if they won’t go to the hospital over it (like climbing on the kitchen table, which I don’t let them do because I don’t want dirty children climbing around where I eat). Anyway, when it comes to safety, if they won’t go to the hospital I’ll allow it.

But I was starting to doubt my parenting when Twig kept falling. It started as learning to go up the stairs, which I supervised because she was so slow and so clumsy. Very few tumbles happened in the beginning. When she got good at it, I stopped watching quite as well. We go up and down these stairs all day so it’s just not practical to wait behind her Every. Single. Time. she goes up or down. But then she decided to get a little too confident about her abilities and start turning around to look at things as she was going up or down, so she tumbled. Then once she got over that, she decided she had to walk up the stairs. That made some more tumbles happen. Then she decided she needed to sit and play on the stairs and more tumbling happened. Really, none of these were a big deal (other than that one that I was concerned about and took her to the doctor over) and most of the time she stopped crying the second she saw me coming. Anyway, it happened so many times that I was doubting myself.

So I started searching online. Was there anyone else like me who refused to buy something (or four some things) that cost at least $100 each (for the ones that wall mount like you’re supposed to have for stairs) and make living life a huge pain in the bottom? I couldn’t be! Well I never did find someone online who said they were like me (hello anyone who was searching similar things and found me! You’re not alone!), but I did find Free-range Kids. I also found her book (Kindle version here) and saw that my library had an eAudiobook copy available right then. I downloaded it and finished it in less than 48 hours.

I had no idea how many things I was doing based on fear.

You know the feeling when you’re at the park and you suddenly can’t find your kid? Logically, you know they’re on the other side of the playground so you just can’t see them. Still though, my heart starts thumping and I immediately jump to the conclusion that my child has been kidnapped. She’s cute and little and those kind disappear all the time! Right? Well, actually wrong. The chances of a child being kidnapped by a stranger (most lost children are either runaways or have been kidnapped by someone they know) are astronomically small.

So many things that I was worried about without even knowing it aren’t that big of a deal. So many of my little practices that I hadn’t ever realized I was doing for “safety” (like never letting my preschooler out of my sight) were beyond what’s necessary. Not only that, it’s damaging to kids to never get out and experience the world without their parent holding their hand. Some of my favorite memories growing up are those of going to my grandma’s house and promptly running off to play in a small forest hidden in an unused lot in her neighborhood. Yes, once I got stung by a bee, but that little risk doesn’t negate all of the other times of learning and having fun.

So I’ve changed a few things since reading that book. Of course my children are small, so they can’t do something like running around the neighborhood without supervision, but they can do a lot of things unsupervised. Like going in the backyard. Even Twig, who is less than a year and a half old (and was more like a year old when we started doing this) is okay to play in the yard with big sister with me inside. I can hear them if something goes wrong (often Twig falling off the swing or a disagreement about who gets to play with that particular shovel) and they know to come inside if I don’t hear. It’s my favorite way to prepare dinner and I will miss it when it gets cold outside and they can’t go out as long. I’m not worried that anyone will snatch them or some sex offender is going to come flash them through the fence (really, there’s a lot about the sex offender list that I didn’t know, like how it doesn’t really work and just creates hell for a lot of people).

Even as small children and toddlers, they need to explore. They need to get out into nature. And they need to deal with relationships with others on their own. I used to be that mom at the playground that jumped in every time that my child had a disagreement with another child. It’s taken some getting used to on her end, but I’ve started letting her handle things herself. Sometimes this means that I’m stepping in still, but it’s to help her handle it, not to handle it myself. And she’s doing grand with it. She has friends across the fences on all sides (though most are grandkids, so not always around) that she chats with. She  makes friends with all sorts of kids at the park. She’ll chat anyone’s ear off if you let her (even another mom the other day at the park, which was hilarious). She did all these things before I backed off, but not to the same extent. I think letting her learn to navigate the social waters alone has helped her confidence.

I’m loving this whole philosophy. We teach our kids to handle life and then we let them handle it. This wasn’t even some big movement back when I was a kid, it was just life. And things are actually safer now than they were then, regardless of what the media is telling you. So if you’re interested, read the book. Check out her blog. Let your kids explore the world without hovering and see how much that can change things.

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