I researched this as I found that my six year old wanted to do more by himself; cross the road, walk to his friend’s house, go to the park down the road with a mate and so forth. I knew the benefits of unsupervised free play time and have always encouraged play in the dirt, old school trampolining fun, stick collecting (and the occasional, well actually, everyday stick/sword battles – at arms distance) and tree climbing but the rest of me was wondering, just exactly how I promote “free range” without risking irresponsibility and unsafe situations.
So what did I find out?
- I am still in charge. Yes that’s right, I’m the parent and just because I’m allowing my children a little more freedom without me, doesn’t mean that expectations go out the window and boundaries fall down.
- With greater freedom (more risky play) comes greater responsibility and if my child is not “ready” for responsibility then he is not “ready” for more unsupervised play. By responsibilities I mean: All jobs completed before heading out, discuss your plans with me and if these want to be changed while out, come back and discuss with me again. Stay with the group (unless in the back garden of course), stay within the designated boundary (for us it is the little park three doors down) and for the stranger danger part..
- Kidnapping. The research says that kidnappings happen, but kids are mostly being kidnapped by people they know and the likelihood is very small. Nevertheless we need to teach our children how to navigate possible scenarios. This is one way of doing it:
FIRST: Teach your children they can TALK to anyone, but they cannot go OFF with anyone. That way if, God forbid, they ever DO find themselves in a dicey situation and they need help, they will feel free to ask it of any stranger nearby. This makes them SAFER rather than LESS SAFE.
SECOND: Teach your children the 3 R’s: Recognize, Resist and Report:
Recognize — that no one can touch you where your bathing suit normally covers. You can teach this to children starting as young as age 3 and it doesn’t freak them out anymore than teaching them to “Stop, drop and roll” if they’re ever on fire.
Resist — If someone is bothering them, they can and should yell, hit, bite, run, and resist the person.
Report — Secrecy is the abusers’ greatest ally. Let your kids know they can and should tell you if something seems weird or someone was “bad,” even if your kids promised to keep a secret. Let them know that you will NOT BE MAD AT THEM for whatever happened. This can help keep the lines of communication open between your kids and you, making it harder for an abuser.
4. Road crossing. Boys’ peripheral vision is not formed till 10 years old so cross the road with an adult or stay on your side of the street. And as a side note, more children die as passengers in cars than being hit by a car.
5. Be careful!” “Get down!” “Watch out!” Those are things that are based on anxiety, not on stepping back and thinking. What the child hears is: “The world is a dangerous place. You don’t trust me to navigate that world. I need you to take care of me; I can’t be independent myself.” (Brussoni).
6. Free, unsupervised, risky play gives children the exercise and life skills they need. (Brussoni)
How is this useful?
If you want your kids to make good judgements, get along with others, solve problems and be successful/independent of you, then let them out more without you and teach them the responsibility and safe behaviour that is expected.