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Let Kids Be Kids; Motto Of The Free-Range Parenting Style

Everyone has their own style, in everything they do, even in parenting. According to researchers who have been studying different parenting styles and the effects they have on kids for years, there really is no one right way to parent.  Isn’t this a relief! 

Recently stories of one style of parenting have gained some media attention and been popping up all over in different places; Free-Range parenting. We decided to dig into this and learn more about it.   Free-Range parenting is the concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently and with limited parental supervision, in accordance with their age of development and with a reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks.  This parenting style is seen as the opposite of “helicopter parenting”(the notion of hovering overhead overseeing every aspect of the child’s life).  The idea was popularized by pediatrician Benjamin Spock. Spock’s book “Baby and Child Care” is one of the bestselling volumes in history, the book’s premise to mothers is that “You know more than you think you do.”  Spock was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children’s needs and family dynamics. His ideas about childcare influenced several generations of parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children and to treat them as individuals.

A notable text of the Free-Range parenting movement is Lenore Skenazy’s book “Free-Range Kids: giving our children the freedom we had without going nuts with worry”.   Skenazy, who famously let her 9-year-old son find his way home on the New York City subway alone gained tons of backlash from her community and even found herself defending her parenting style on numerous television talk shows.

According to Lenore Skenazy, Free-Range parenting aims to foster independence in children by giving them greater autonomy and less adult supervision.  Many followers of the parenting style say the benefits are many: “Free-Range parenting supporters say that it encourages problem-solving skills, promotes creativity, strengthens personality formation, and builds confidence,” Dr. Kyle Pruett, M.D., Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine says.

 “They also say this makes children more resourceful.  But it does not mean anything goes. Free-Range parenting is not a rule-less world where kids are left to figure everything out for themselves. That’s called “permissive parenting”, and experts say that parenting style does not lead to good outcomes for kids. Permissive parenting trades that judicious supervision for the absence of structure or rule enforcement” Dr. Pruett says.  “Permissive parenting appeals to those who want to befriend rather than raise their children”.

“Free-Range parenting involves teaching a child skills and acting as a guide if a child makes a mistake,” says Amy Morin, LCSW, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do” Free-Range parents tend to be loving and nurturing, even though they aren’t afraid to let their kids fall down”.

Here are some ideas we came across that Free-Range parenting advocates hold in high regard when it comes to raising children from the age of three through the teen years.

  • Trust their instincts
  • Let kids be kids
  • Be flexible
  • Allow kids to fail, brush themselves off and try again

Training Kids For Independence

The Free-Range philosophy is often confused with permissive parenting- allowing children to do whatever they want without supervision. That is not the case. Responsible parents who adopt the Free-Range approach are careful to ensure that their children are well-prepared to handle the situations life throws at them. The first step is training, with close parental supervision gradually diminishing to allow for greater independence.

Give Kids Permission To Fail

In contrast to “helicopter parents” who overprotect and shield their children from life’s disappointments, Skenazy encourages failure. On her website she writes, “If children don’t fail, they can’t learn that they can get back up, dust themselves off and go on with their lives.” She illustrates the point with a bike-riding analogy. No one wants their child to fall off his or her bike, especially at the risk of a serious injury. But if we want our children to learn how to ride a bike, we can’t hold onto the back of the bike forever. When kids fall off (and they will!), they learn two important lessons: 1) failure isn’t permanent, and 2) there is joy in learning new things.”

Strike A Balance

With so many different parenting theories available by simply googling the word “parent”, which one should you follow? As Dr. Spock said, “Trust your instincts” Keep your child’s strengths and challenges in mind when considering what to allow him/her to do without supervision. While one 10-year-old might be prepared, willing and able to stay home alone in the house while you run errands in the afternoon, another child might find that experience overwhelming. Allow children to stretch their comfort level over time by leaving them, for short periods while you are nearby and then gradually extending the periods of time and going farther away.  When the situation seems too dangerous or risky, step in and provide a higher level; of supervision. But if your child is well prepared for the challenge, go ahead and step back. The best way to learn is by making a mistake and trying again.”

We can’t help but feel this next sentence is a lot like learning to ride a bike; “The best way to build confidence and competence is by taking on a new and challenging task, finding the courage to overcome doubts and practicing skills needed to complete the task successfully. ”  -Dr. Benjamin Spock.  Regardless of your parenting style, kids should be learning to ride a bike because there’s so much they will stand to gain from it; such as confidence, balance, social interaction, orienteering, etc.  For some parents, this task can be scary to take on, as fear of watching a child stumble can be overwhelming.  The All Kids Bike Kindergarten Learn-To-Ride PE program will safely take children on a journey that has them balancing a bike using their own body to provide the momentum and once that skill is honed in, they are on to pedaling in no time and reaping all the benefits of biking sans the anxiety and fear for some parents.