Free-Range Tip: Do Less Preventing, More Preparing

Raising nnykyhdnnz
Free-Range Kids is really all about raising kids who can do things on their own. Not because we don’t want to help them, but because we want them to be able to help themselves (and others!). So I was delighted to read “Five Changes I’d Make If I Could Parent Over Again,” by Tim Elmore on his engaging blog, Growing Leaders. I will post some of his other insights as the days go by. But first, Tip #1?

I would do less preventing and more preparing.

In our effort to ensure that our kids experience no major catastrophies in their childhood that could permanently damage their emotions, we find ourselves reminding them incessantly:

  • Don’t forget your backpack.
  • Don’t forget to take your meds.
  • Don’t forget practice is at 4:00.
  • Don’t forget your homework.
  • Don’t forget your grandma’s birthday today.

Our goal is understandable. We want to prevent bad things from happening. When children are young, this is not only normal, it’s necessary. But by age ten, their brains have formed enough that they can (and should) take responsibility for many areas of their behavior. When we constantly remind them of important items, they tend to become dependent on others for things they should be taking ownership of themselves. We actually enable them to rely on others — and even blame others — when they should be learning to take responsibility for their life. This isn’t healthy.

Preparing children for the future means increasingly letting them get used to the weight of responsibility by not protecting them from the consequences of poor choices. Consequences are a natural part of life. In fact, our world is full of them, and they often come in the form of equations: if you do this, that will be the benefit; if you do that, this will be the consequence. Parents must consistently demonstrate and model these equations for their kids.

I agree…except for the consistency part. I’m pretty lackadaisical and feel that kids can roll with all sorts of punches, even a Free-Range Parent who isn’t on point (or, sometimes, even Free-Range) all the time. But yes, preparing makes more sense than trying to prevent everything…if only because, ultimately, we CAN’T prevent everything. (And that’s probably for the best.) – L

be prepared

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23 Responses to Free-Range Tip: Do Less Preventing, More Preparing

  1. pentamom December 17, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    “I agree…except for the consistency part. I’m pretty lackadaisical and feel that kids can roll with all sorts of punches, even a Free-Range Parent who isn’t on point (or, sometimes, even Free-Range) all the time.”

    For myself, I’d tweak this a little bit: consistency does matter, but consistency isn’t obsessive perfection. And stepping in and helping occasionally can be a good thing, and not necessarily a failure of consistency. If we occasionally step in an give a bit of a hand to a spouse or friend who is perfectly capable of handling things himself, just out of thoughtfulness, that’s not a bad thing — it’s a reminder that we care and will be kind even when it isn’t “needed.” So, too, if we’re training our kids to be generally independent, the whole thing isn’t going to collapse over an occasional “don’t forget your flute” or “don’t forget Grandma’s birthday.”

  2. AnnMarie Johnson December 17, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    It’s hard to figure out where to stop the reminders. My daughter just turned 10. And she is soooo forgetful and doesn’t really pay attention to a lot of stuff. She needs reminders to wear underwear and put on deodorant, for heaven’s sake! She rarely remembers to wash her hands before touching food. She really doesn’t care if she forgets…but the rest of us do! Recently, I decided to just focus on one aspect of things to reminder her about; personal hygiene/modesty is the one I chose for now. [Yes, the need for underwear is debatable. However, she often wears shorts and plays a lot, and everything shows if she doesn’t wear them!]

    I would certainly say that taking your medicine is something parents absolutely must take control of. 10 year olds (and for quite a bit older than that, too) should not be responsible for regular medication.

  3. deltaflute December 17, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Yes, teaching responsibility is important, but it’s going to vary. My husband, who is an adult, is forgetful. Even if he sets reminders on his phone, he is liable to forget. And my son is thought to have high functioning ASD. There are some things he will need extra help with. He can usually dress himself completely, but there are some mornings where he can’t focus. Is it wrong to help him then? No I wouldn’t think so. I think I would be a poor parent for sending him to school underdressed because he couldn’t focus that morning. I think I also would be a poor parent if I didn’t let him dress himself on mornings that he can focus. As I said it depends.

  4. Alexander December 17, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    I don’t know a lot of parents that are going to notice their kid forgot their inhaler or their epi-pen or something of the sort and not remind them. The consequences could be pretty dire.

  5. Emily December 17, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    @AnnMarie Johnson–Would it be possible to help your daughter to help herself to remember underwear and deodorant? Like, suppose she were to put away her underwear, not in a separate underwear drawer, but instead put a pair of underwear, rolled up (or in the pocket) of each pair of pants (or whatever bottoms) she owns, so that when she goes to put on her pants in the morning, the underwear are right there, so she can’t forget? As for the deodorant, what if you had her, say, put that on her nightstand, so it’d be the first thing she sees upon waking up in the morning?

    I’m just thinking back to when I was in early elementary school, and I took FOREVER to get dressed in the morning. I think that was because, to an adult, “getting dressed” is a single step in the course of the morning “getting ready for the day” routine; whereas for a child, it’s a multi-step process–pick out a pair of underwear, socks, pants, and a shirt, then finally shoes, and winter clothes if it’s winter. They have to be clean, they have to match, they have to be appropriate for the weather, and the occasion. Even “school clothes” aren’t that straightforward, because nobody wants to, say, accidentally wear their favourite Pikachu T-shirt on art day, when poor Pikachu might get paint spilled on him. Then, they have to put on each item, and make sure everything is on the right way, so no shirts on backwards or shoes on the wrong feet, et cetera. I got the hang of the process before I was ten, but every child is different, and for all I know, your daughter might be brilliant in another area. But anyway, I was just thinking that “underwear put away with pants, and deodorant in full view” might streamline the process by creating visual cues, and reducing the number of “steps” to getting ready in the morning. It doesn’t look “perfect,” because to most people, underwear belongs in the underwear drawer, but if the goal is to make sure Daughter wears underwear daily, it just might work.

  6. Jen December 17, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    I agree with this for a lot of kids, but not all. My 14yo daughter has extreme ADHD and takes medication for both that and depression. Until her medication kicks in, which is well after I am gone for the day, I have to help her remember things. I am not home when she leaves for school, so she has to put the dogs in her kennels, make sure the door is locked, lights off, etc., but I HAVE to make sure she takes her medication before I leave the house. However, I have given up on homework reminders. And she has done better in school since I gave up on that. I have seen her become a lot more responsible since I left that to her.

  7. Sharon December 17, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    Days of the week underwear work for some little girls. If it is Tuesday you should be wearing “Tuesday.” My daughter put the appropriate underwear and outfit for the entire school week ready on Sunday.

  8. Becky December 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    Dang @Emily…I never knew getting dressed for school in elementary school could be so complicated! It wasn’t for me, but when you break it down step by step it sounds next to impossible.. sheesh…. Perhaps that’s part of the problem… too much thought put into it. Does any of that stuff really matter? So what if they show up with their shirt on backwards? The whole idea is that they will get called out on it, and remember for themselves another time. Or, perhaps they just don’t care and it’s no big deal. If they spill paint on their favorite shirt, then they will learn. They may cry. So what? No tragedy. Just lessons. Your reply is diametrically opposed to the point of this story.. Stop trying to prevent everything and anticipate every possible way things could go wrong.

  9. Steve December 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    Re: “Preparing children for the future means increasingly letting them get used to the weight of responsibility by not protecting them from the consequences of poor choices.”

    That is so true!

    And I will add that many parents today have not learned that lesson.

    To say, “My son or my daughter needs to be reminded” is just a lousy excuse for not allowing them to learn the consequences.
    The cause and affect principle is important to understand.

    “Forgetting” (in many cases) is common for people who have been “enabled” to forget.

    I’ll prove it.

    How many people do you know who forgot that stepping in front of a speeding automobile will have dire consequences?

    I’m serious! How many people do you personally know who forgot that a moving car could kill or seriously injure them? (yes, I’ll admit I’ve heard about people getting killed because they walked into traffic while looking at a cellphone – and I wonder how Free Range their parents were?) Nevertheless…

    You only forget something when the consequences are not important to you.

    And here we have a problem for parents who care more about What other people might think. When you care about other people’s opinions MORE than you care about raising an independent, well-prepared, resilient child, you will continue to enable your child to forget just about everything.

    The only consequence for many children today is “Mom or Dad will fix the problem.”

    Here’s a short video about the importance of early childhood training, and it specifically touches on the importance of “consistency.” Many of us have problems with consistency, but this video will get you thinking about it for a different reason:

    John Stossel

  10. Emily December 17, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    @Becky–I didn’t tell AnnMarie to pre-roll her daughter’s pants and underwear together, so she (the daughter) remembers to wear underwear; I said for her to HAVE HER DAUGHTER do that, thereby setting herself up to “succeed” by remembering underwear. Right now, she skips that step and goes straight to pants, but if the underwear was right with her pants, she couldn’t forget. So, it’d still be the daughter putting away her own laundry, and putting away the underwear and pants together, and it wouldn’t be a permanent solution; it’d just be until wearing underwear becomes normal, and going without feels strange. It’s all about building habit.

    As for breaking down the steps of getting dressed for school, I never said it was “near impossible,” but we shouldn’t forget that kids have to learn to do things that we just do automatically. I also never said that kids shouldn’t be responsible for getting themselves dressed for school; just that we should look at what that entails, and how it might be a lot for a six-year-old (or even an easily distracted ten-year-old) who just woke up. Oh, and another thing I left out of the equation–the worry over fashion. Most adults buy their own clothes, and therefore choose their own clothes, but kids don’t entirely, so that’s a lot of decisions to make, and things to remember, first thing in the morning–picking out all the necessary clothes, making sure they’re matching, and weather-and-activity appropriate, but also trying to think, “Are jeans ‘in’ this week? Should I wear the shirt with the stripes, or will that Queen Bee McKenna tell all her friends not to hang out with me if I do? No, that’s no good; better go with plain, but now it won’t match my pants,” and so on, and so forth. Throw puberty into the mix, and clothes might fit differently from one week or month to the next, so that’s another obstacle.

    My point is, it’s not really fair to judge children by the same standards as adults in this area, because adults choose and buy their own clothes, adults’ bodies generally stay the same size, adults don’t shun each other for wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes, and adults are used to the process of getting ready in the morning, plus they’ve reached a point where a backwards shirt, or shoes on the wrong feet, are going to feel weird to them, so they just put everything on the right way automatically. So, yes, kids should learn to get themselves ready for wherever they’re going, but it’s a learning process, and some things don’t even happen until much later. For example, I could dress myself (including tying shoes) by the time I was in kindergarten, but I couldn’t lace my own skates until I was maybe nine or ten.

  11. Emily December 17, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    P.S., Even if the “Have Daughter roll her pants and underwear together” idea seems outlandish, and contrary to the idea of NOT protecting kids from the consequences of their actions, I have to say, sometimes I “protect myself from the consequences of my actions” as an adult. For example, I lose things easily, so I plan for this by always keeping my wallet in the same pocket of my backpack, and always keeping my keys on a plastic clip in a different pocket of my backpack. I suppose I could just train myself not to lose things easily, but I’ve tried that, and I can’t do it (clutter always seems to multiply around me, even when I don’t buy anything for a while), so I’ve found a work-around.

  12. Becky December 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    @Steve…. You nail it. I think lack of consequences is the underlying problem for many “behavioral” issues… I’m sure plenty of ADD/ADHD cases could be cured if the kids actually suffered some consequences of their actions instead of having excuses made for their impulsive behavior.

  13. deltaflute December 17, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    @Becky- Wow what a cruel thing to say about a child with cognitive disabilities! Children with ADHD/ADD don’t suddenly snap out of it. They go through a process of evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. Sometimes medication and behavioral therapies help them become more responsible and independent, but it doesn’t happen overnight. They have to work hard at it. It’s cruel to make a child with a real disorder simply deal with the consequences of their disability without any aid. It’s like denying a child with physical disabilities the aid of crutches to learn how to walk. It’s not something to joke about especially for those people who actually live with it. *smh*

    And as for Steve’s comment: There are plenty of people who have impulsive disorders who would walk into traffic even if they knew it would mean injury. It’s not a matter of priority; it’s not having the ability to control themselves. They have to be taught not to do dangerous things like that ie to control themselves. There are numerous instances of children with ASD injuring themselves even after they’ve both experienced it already or been told not to do so.

  14. Mandy December 17, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    @Becky– as a kid with undiagnosed adhd, I suffered a lot of consequences for my forgetfulness and disorganization. It didn’t help the behavior. All it did was create low self-esteem. When I was a kid I learned to not ask for help, because every time I did, adults would roll their eyes and tell me that because I’m smart, I didn’t need any. As a result I didn’t learn study skills until I was in my 20s. By grad school I finally got my act together and developed those systems and work-arounds (and yes, the fact I was paying for it myself helped me get the best grades of my life). However I almost didn’t go because of crippling insecurity. I was terrified of the very expensive consequences of failure.

    Today I work with a lot of kids with executive function problems, and I’ve seen how helping them develop systems can make a huge difference in their academic performance and their self-esteem. They should have to be responsible for maintaining the systems once established, and that’s when it makes sense to allow them to fail and learn natural consequences.

    A little compassion goes a long way.

  15. Donna December 17, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

    People tend to remember things that matter to them and be lackadaisical about things that are not important to them. Experiencing a consequence is only a meaningful motivator if you personally care about the consequence.

    In other words, AnnMarie’s daughter is likely not forgetting her underwear and deodorant because she has a bad memory or because she is disorganized. She is not remembering underwear and deodorant because those things are not important to her. The consequences – going to school without underwear and stinking – are not negative to her.

    The options are: (1) ignore it until these things do matter to her (and ultimately they likely will); (2) remind her every day until these things matter to her; or (3) create a consequence that does matter to her. Expecting her to consistently remember to do something that is completely irrelevant to her is like banging your head against the wall. You aren’t going accomplish anything other than a headache.

    I actually had this issue with my daughter in kindergarten. She hated underwear, but the school insisted that she had to wear it, at least with dresses and shorts. She forgot regularly until I started taking away TV time each time she forgot. It took doing that twice before she miraculously could remember her underwear every morning. Her hour of TV each night she cared about; modesty not so much.

  16. Ann in L.A. December 17, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    As others have said, meds are a big exception. Parents can’t just sit back and hope their kid has acted responsibly.

    Another one where parents generally have to lay down the law is with cleaning, whether it is personal hygiene or leaving a mess in their wake. They often really don’t care and have no desire to clean up after themselves. Without a push many would be pigs in a sty.

    In the end it boils down to this–something I tell the kids all the time: Responsibility can never be given; it can only be taken.

  17. Steve December 18, 2014 at 12:08 am #

    jen and deltaflute –

    ADHD/ADD is usually a personality type possessed by many entrepreneurs and creative people. It’s a multi-tasking Gift that bean-counter/ linear types castigate as a disability. Disorders are labels made up by certain people. Disorders were not handed down by God on Mt. Psychiatry.

    My wife is a school psychologist with 30+ years of experience and has been fighting this stuff and all the drugging her entire career. Psych meds usually do more harm than good. The meds themselves can cause memory problems. So can other non-psych medications.

    Take a look at this video:

    Making a Killing: The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging

    Something else to consider: Impulse control can be “caused” by medications, and it can also be made worse by calling it a symptom of a so-called disorder, thereby excusing it as beyond the control of the person with the “disorder.”

  18. Donna December 18, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    Steve –

    I used to completely disagree, but I am definitely coming to believe that psychotrophic drugs often do more harm than good.

    My childhood best friend has apparently had undiagnosed bipolar disorder for most of her life. She definitely had some issues, but functioned okay for most of that time. She held down a job, owned her own home, got married, took care of her children. She functioned sufficiently right up until she was diagnosed and put on medication in her 40s. Now she is completely non-functional. She can no longer work (I wouldn’t hire her to babysit my kid’s dog and I hate the dog), has repeatedly tried to kill herself, has had CPS called on her and runs a real possibility of being homeless after her latest stint in the mental hospital is over since her husband can’t take her back into their home without risking losing their kids to CPS. I’m not so sure anymore that the medications aren’t causing many of the problems rather than the mental illness itself.

    Psychotrophic medications can do a lot of good. But they also come with a lot of drawbacks and serious side effects that then also need to be medicated. And we don’t really know much about the organ that we are messing with. While some people truly have no options other than medication, I think there is too much of a rush to drugs as a first resort and not enough attempts to try less invasive and more holistic approaches BEFORE jumping on the medication train. I actually think that this is the case with much of medicine, but mental health seems particularly fraught with it.

  19. Becky December 18, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    I’m with Steve on this..

  20. hineata December 18, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    I believe in being consistently inconsistent – keeps the kids on their toes :-).

    Seriously, though….the medication thing depends entirely on the child and the reason for said medication. If it is a regular medication for a condition that does not effect the mind, then absolutely by ten the child should be able to take it without supervision or reminders. My kid had her meds in a box and just took them at set times. Now the regime has changed she does the same thing with the plasma….Diabetics would be the same. I can’t recall a diabetic kid on regular insulin who needed reminding to take it.

    A kid for whom medication is not a regular thing might need reminding, but children with health problems should be taking responsibility for their own problems as early as possible. ..IMHO 🙂

  21. hineata December 18, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    I can see why, though, one would remind a child on ADHD medication. At the school I work at, only a couple of kids are medicated for that – it is very much a last resort – and those kids do usually remember to go get their meds, but teachers do tend to keep an eye on it, as there are consequences for the rest of the school otherwise.

    And that is what is behind people reminding children to do things. ..the consequences for the ‘reminder’ of the child forgetting.

  22. Mandy December 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    I thank my lucky stars that I wasn’t medicated as a kid. ADHD is definitely a mixed bag, both a challenge and a blessing. I certainly turned out ok; doctorate, great marriage, 2 wonderful kids, own my own business.

    My point wasn’t that kids shouldn’t take responsibility, rather that age alone shouldn’t be the determining factor for what a kid must take responsibility for. Even a bright kid might need some lessons on HOW to develop the tools needed to do so.

    I’m still scatterbrained; it’s just that now I always put my keys on the hook and keep a calendar and to-do lists. Would have been easier if mom had taught me those skills rather than making me re-invent the wheel.

  23. Sigh December 19, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    Ehhh…I think another thing to take into account is that it’s about maturity, not age. I remember reading a hypothesis about certain special needs kids being equivalent to 2/3rds of their actual age, in terms of function.

    So…yeah….there’s that.