Raising Free-Range Kids


If you grew up as a kid in the 80s and early 90s, it’s easy to think of young kids having free reign of the neighborhood with few rules to guide their activities. When we were growing up, we had the ability to roam, explore and basically be free-range kids.

I believe this freedom fosters independence and problem-solving which enables kids to feel confident when presented with new situations later in life.

Independence Develops Problem-Solving Skills

As a kid, I remember arguments about Wiffle Ball games, out-of-bounds in pickup soccer matches, and pass interference in football games at my nearby park with my buddies. I don’t know that arguing about amateur sports is worthwhile, but we did have to solve our own problems.

With no parent around to intervene, we were forced to work things out. My friends and I had to learn how to come to an agreement and move on.

We practiced real-life problem-solving skills.

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Allowing Young Children to Take Risks

If your kids aren’t old enough to be roaming the neighborhood unsupervised, yet, there are other ways you can help them take more “risks” to learn to be more independent. For instance, when playing at the park, let your child climb up the play structure by themselves.

You know exactly what I am talking about.

Have you seen those parents who are climbing all over the play structures holding their kid’s hand, gently lowering them down the slide, and helping them through the tunnel? Do you know what skills these kids are learning? That mom and dad need to help them do everything.

These parents are also doing all this coddling at our uber-safe United States parks, while parents in Australia, Canada, and Sweden are trying to incorporate more risks into their parks.

Young boy climbing high on a play structure.

If you don’t allow your kids to struggle, fall, or slide a little too fast down the slide, they will learn to depend on you for park play. You are solving all their problems for them. And you are telling them what to do instead of giving them the opportunity to try to figure things out.

By not allowing your child to problem-solve, they will often be slow to develop problem-solving skills. If you are always there to help, they won't figure out how to climb the rock wall or walk up the stairs by themselves.

Why should they try on their own when they know that you will help them do it?

Young girl climbing on a playground,

Unfortunately, those kids are also the ones that will eventually blame you for not putting their homework in their backpacks. Help your kids become more independent, don’t enable them.

Reminder to Self

You do not need to climb up in the play structure with your child. Even a two-year-old can maneuver a small play structure.

They can do it.

If they can’t, then they need to practice. You can stand nearby, but try to avoid helping them through every little bump and obstacle.

Let them struggle. Let them problem solve.

They will never get better or gain the independence and confidence they need if you are always there to help them and tell them what to do.

I violated my own rule recently, and I climbed the play structure with my 18 month-old. In an attempt to help her through a tunnel, I accidentally pushed her a little too hard and she face-planted right into the tunnel. Ugh!

Lots of blood and a swollen lip later, I reminded myself that sometimes my interfering can make things worse.

Baby with a cut lip.

Conclusion

I regularly follow Lenore Skenazy who keeps me up on parents who similarly feel that allowing today’s kids to be more “free-range” in their upbringing is better for the child’s lifelong well-being. But, I’ll concede it’s hard to be a parent that allows children to be independent when there aren’t any kids out and about in the street playing.

However, I know the world is safer today and I’m only cheating my kids by keeping them cooped up in the house, or hovering around them outside for fear of their safety.  Gotta let them get out there and take some risks eventually if you want them to hold their own in the real world someday!

So let your kid climb on the play structure while you stay on the ground, or walk to school or ride her bike to her friend's house alone. I need someone else’s kid out there for my kid to meet!


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