“I Called You Names…Then Stopped, and Changed My Parenting”

Hi fddsyynzia
Readers — Sorry my computer has been on the fritz and it was hard to update the blog. But now: An upbeat start to the weekend!

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I admit, when I saw the initial reports of your son’s adventure on the subway, I was a naysayer and a name caller.  Oh, the things I called you (apologies!).  I admit, I brought baggage to my parenting.  Two neighborhood girls had been lured from their backyards when one was in 2nd grade, and one in 4th.  They were missing for a day and then found dead.  I brought these two girls along and they were my judge and jury with almost every decision I made as a parent.

And then, I recognized the symptoms of anxiety in my oldest child.  He was scared of everything and everyone.  And I was completely to blame.  As an educator, I recognized that I had created the very type of child that I resented having in my classroom.  He was an easy target for bullies (both school age and adult), who would immediately recognize the signs of weakness and pounce.  I also had a kid that, God forbid, if the worst case scenario happened, had neither the confidence nor the fortitude to help himself.

So, slowly, I started letting the control go.  He balked more than I at first, but slowly he grew comfortable being outside by himself and exploring, as did my two younger children.  And as an added bonus, they learned how to settle their disputes BY THEMSELVES.  No more need for me to play referee 24/7.  Rather than drag all the kids to the other kids’ sporting events, we leave them home for the 30 minutes or an hour overlap.

Have there been some bumps in the road and on their bodies?  Sure.  We even have some scars from falling out of trees or slipping on ice.  Have I let go completely?  No.  We make sure our kids are prepared and make sure they are clear that they have the most important role in keeping themselves safe.  Get separated in the mall?  Just stop.  Don’t panic. Move to the side, pretend to window shop and I’ll find you.  Same plan if separated in the woods, minus the window shopping of course.  In case of fire, meet at the end of the driveway.  We do have a family plan for home invasions which does sound crazy, but we live in an area that is actually being studied by the FBI, we have such a large number of home invasions compared to population.

My kids have flourished knowing that they are in fact capable of keeping themselves safe and knowing what to do “if ever…”  They also know how rare that “if ever” is.  Yesterday, my oldest decided he was going to climb on top of some industrial storage containers that are next to one of the practice fields.  He spent an hour jumping from one to the other. Then I recognized from his posture and movements that he was considering jumping off one onto a pile of dirt.  The mom next to me recognized it at the same time and asked me if I was going to yell and stop him.  I said no, because he was going to jump anyway and if I yelled to stop him (because there was no way I was going to be able to walk over in time) he needed to be 100% committed to the jump and not be distracted, or he would get hurt.  The look on her face made it clear that she would be telling her kids that evening that they would never be allowed to play at my house again.

And he did jump, and he walked away with the biggest smile on his face — and all the kids that weren’t allowed even on the containers all thought he was the coolest dude ever!

So, I am getting there slowly, and weening myself and my kids off my crazy.  My kids have spent countless hours on their bikes, but never off of our private way or the 50-mile bike trail we are fortunate to live near.  This summer they want to play Wiffle ball games with some of the kids in our area of town.  Each weekend, I take them on their bikes out on the road and teach them the way to ride a bike when there are cars and logging trucks going by at  25 to 45 mph.  And I may not be ready to let them go completely by themselves.  I may ride along with the to the field they’ll use but then continue on and get some exercise in myself.  Baby steps. Thank you for your book. — A Happier Mom

Dear Happier Mom: I’m happy, too — for you and your family! And, call me a stickler, but saying you are “not” Free-Range because you are still teaching your kids to be safe and what to do in an emergency just proves that you are MORE Free-Range than you think! Free-Range believes in preparing our kids to deal with the world, not just throwing them out there, and that’s what you are doing. Also, we try not to beat ourselves up for any of our parenting decisions (there are plenty of other people ready to do that), so I wouldn’t even say the the old you “created” an anxious child. Let’s just say you noticed your own anxiety and decided to fight back. And did! In spades! Here’s to a wonderful summer! — L

57 Responses to “I Called You Names…Then Stopped, and Changed My Parenting”

  1. Dave Higgs-Vis @ Folkabout Baby June 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    I love positive stories like these! They’re a fantastic way to start my day.


  2. Dolly June 4, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Great letter! I agree with what Lenore said that just because we teach our kids to be safe or help them does not mean we are not free range. That is the point isn’t it? Baby steps to teaching them to be completely independent and it takes time!

  3. Juliet Robertson June 4, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    I’ve always believed that the feeling of fear can be a strength as well as a weakness. It sounds to me like this parent has used her fears productively to enable her children to learn to self-assess risk and develop age-appropriate responsibility.

    What a lovely post.

  4. Maureen June 4, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    Good for you, Happier Mom! What you said about raising a kid more susceptible to bullies rings true.

    I’m a teacher and I have noticed a lot about bullying. First, I don’t think that there are any more bullies than when I was a kid. Those kids that are bullies will always be around. They have parents that are bullies, and as we all know, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. What I do think is that we have more of are children that are victims. Raising kids that can’t fight their own battles, or by not giving them the skills to battle bullies (and I’m not talking physically fight, I’m talking mentally) is the real problem.

  5. SKL June 4, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    I have a mini success story too. Last night my 4yos and I went to dinner with my childless friends as usual. My youngest went in with my friend while the eldest dawdled around with me outside. When we finally got inside, I said, “where is my other brat?” and the answer was, “in the restroom.” Auntie sent her to the restroom alone! Congrats, Auntie, it only took you a year to get comfortable with the idea!

  6. Anthony from CharismaticKid June 4, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    This would be a perfect story to use at the talk today! See you there!

  7. SKL June 4, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    Interesting thing about how kids will rise to the occasion if we encourage them. My 4yo’s have been to a fancy waterpark (with a section for tots), and they recently asked when they could go back. My answer: when you can swim from the deep part of the pool to the shallow part without stopping. Our next swimming outing was last Thursday. My eldest, who usually acts very timid in the water and hates me to let go of her, demanded that I let go and just stay nearby. She managed to get quite a distance without help. Then she grabbed the side, popped her head up, and said “can we go to the waterpark now??”

    It’s hard to know the exact balance between caution and empowering. There have been some times when I’ve taken a step back rather than have my heart in my throat. My reality check is – will my kids be ready to fly solo by their 18th birthday? Sadly, I think for parents who follow the currently popular standard of caution, the answer is mostly “no.”

  8. Kelly G June 4, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

    Way to go Happier Mom! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us…you are an inspiration for everyone!

    And SKL, that cracks me up about your 4yo…aren’t little ones so funny like that?!

  9. gap.runner June 4, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    I changed my user name to avoid confusion. There is another sue (also in lower case letters) who posts here. She is very different from me. The new name fits me better because I am a runner (doing a half-marathon in 3 weeks). The city where I live is often abbreviated, “GAP.”

    Anyway…A lot of people confuse free range and neglectful. To me free range is giving a child age-appropriate freedoms and responsibilities along with the tools to handle them. It sounds like the mom who wrote the letter is doing that. She is also being smart giving her kids more freedom in baby steps. Self-confidence and esteem come from mastery of a particular task. If she gave them too much freedom at once, it would be overwhelming and more detrimental to their self-esteem and confidence. As her kids gain more confidence, they realize that they are indeed capable beings. She can proudly call herself a free-range mom.

    I like SKL’s reality check. When I went off to college at 17, I was very independent and learned some other things along the way. I hope that my when my son is 18 and starts university that he’ll also be ready to fly on his own.

  10. Emily June 4, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    My toddler version of free ranging is currently in question (somewhat). I have a 2 year and four month old, plus a four month old. The two year old always likes to be right where I’m doing anything, so she often sits on the kitchen counter while I prep food or the bathroom counter while I brush my teeth etc. She’s probably done this about a thousand times in the past year, and it always makes my husband nervous, but she’s pretty careful and I usually say it’s good for her to learn. Well, yesterday she fell on her head on the tiled bathroom floor. She cried nonstop for two hours except for a little while when she fell asleep (it was normal nap time), and then had issues with her neck and shoulder where she cried anytime she moved too much. We’ve ruled out a concussion and spoke to our doctor for some muscle relief suggestions, and we’re planning to take her to a chiro this morning. But now I’m just trying to remind myself that I’m not a negligent parent for not being next to my daughter while she sat on a counter above tile. 🙁 I don’t feel too guilty, but part of me thinks I should because I was indeed asking too much of a toddler. My husband has nixed all counter sitting of course. Anyway, so it’s nice to see a story about encouraging independence and it being a success. 🙂

  11. sarah June 4, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    TO: Happier Mom
    RE: Being committed.

    I had never been able to explain to other parents why I do not yell or (gasp) chase down my children to stop risk taking behavior. Thank you for putting words to something that I have been struggling with for years. I hope you do not mind but I will be using your line soon.


  12. Jespren June 4, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    @ Emily: counter sitting is always nerve wracking. There isn’t a logical reason *not* to, but it just *seems* so dangerous! I mean, my toddler confidently climbs all over the play structure, which easily gets above 10 feet, but I get nervous letting him sit on a 3 foot counter. Hope the chiro helps, but it sounds like your little one just took a bad spill, they happen, and could have happened anywhere! Hope you can breath and calm down some, and get your husband to calm down too. My husband is far more paranoid/helicopter-ish than I am so I feel for you.

  13. Stephanie Lynn June 5, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    Your story about your son jumping onto the dirt pile reminds me of when my mom was teaching me how to drive. I had to make a left turn onto a busy highway, crossing a lane of traffic. I looked both ways and went for it, and my mom screamed “STOP!!!” I almost did and we would have gotten in a wreck. I reprimanded her for that and she realized her mistake but said it was a knee-jerk reaction. I love your idea about not stopping him because your intervention might do more harm than good.

  14. Stephanie June 5, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    I loved reading this post!!! It’s great that she’s learning to let go a bit, and is actually preparing her children to actually *deal* with bad situations rather than make vain attempts to try to avoid any and all bad stuff.

    When I was probably about 5 years old I somehow managed to figure out how to do a flip. I’d just stand there and jump, flip right over and land on my feet every time. It scared the crap out of my mom, but she still let me do it. She cringed every time for fear I wouldn’t make it all the way around and crack my head on the floor, but she never stopped me from doing it. Same goes for all kinds of acrobatics I’d pull jumping into pools. 😉

    And speaking of swimming: I’m a great example of how easily parental fears can affect children. When I was a toddler and first taking swimming lessons at our Y, my mom didn’t know how to swim and was scared of the water. I picked up on that fear, and when we would get into the water I sensed her apprehension and would cling to her and refuse to let go. Finally, my mom decided to learn how to swim, and once she was more relaxed in the water, I started to swim like a fish! 🙂

  15. Jenny Islander June 5, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    @Emily: At about that age, my oldest decided to see what would happen if she held on to the rail of her low toddler bed and leaned waaaaaaayyyyyy out over the tile floor. Of course, what happened was the first actual goose-egg I have ever seen, plus a lot of terrified crying. A year later, she did it to herself again while seeing how long she could spin around. The year after that, she didn’t look before she sat, sat on the cat, and got scratched deeply. That same year, her toddler sister decided to lean over and bite her so hard she bled, completely out of the blue.

    Kids who come out of childhood without any interesting scars whatsoever are extremely rare.

  16. kim June 5, 2011 at 1:37 am #

    My 17mo is a climber. She made it all the way up a loft ladder in my decidedly not FR friend’s vacation rental the other day, and boy, the look I got when I let her do it, and climb down, too. But my girl did it!
    @Emily, we love the tower-type stool that we got for my oldest. It’s got four sides and an adjustable platform, and gets my girls up to counter height with less worry about lost balance. Which leads to more FR activities like dishwashing and cooking, since we can devote our whole attention to what we

  17. Aunt Chovey June 5, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    “We have some scars from falling out of trees and slipping on ice.” The thing is, kids get hurt even when we’re standing two feet away sometimes. I’ll never forget how bad I felt when my nephew tumbled out of a lawn chair right in front of me and got a bloody fat lip. He wasn’t doing anything monkeyish, either.

    Kids do get hurt sometimes, and it pains us to witness it, but it’s part of growing up. Sounds like you understand that, but unfortunately in this blame-heavy culture, not every parent does.

  18. Jennifer Merck June 5, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    I absolutely love this. Free-range parenting is about building confidence, trust, and wisdom in kids AND parents!

  19. Tim Gill June 5, 2011 at 3:09 am #

    Reading this post has made my Saturday. I guess it took some guts, and I admire you for this, Happier mom.

  20. dmd June 5, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    This is a wonderful story! Although I consider myself free range, my son is sometimes a reluctant free ranger, but I can see that, over time, he is feeling freer. We went to a festival recently, and hubby and I were enjoying the music. Dylan wanted to go play in the kids area (rock wall and bounce houses). So I gave him some money and let him go. And off he went! He used to whine that I had to go with him or he’d be back in 5 mins wanting me to be with him. But this day he was perfectly happy to go off and be independent and do what he wanted to do while we did what we wanted to do.

  21. KyohakuKeisanki June 5, 2011 at 3:28 am #

    A Happier Mom: How high was the jump?

    Stephanie: I posted this on another post before, but for a couple of years my parents tried to teach me how to swim, and it didn’t work out too well… I would resist when they tried to get me to float. It was a similar situation to yours… they did know how to swim (not very well though), but they wouldn’t ever go in the deep end. I had lessons at a city pool and did very well… even though from my recollection they taught me in a very similar way to how my parents tried to.

  22. Teri June 5, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    Yay! A convert! I understand the writer’s original concerns and almost fell to being an overprotective parent for the same reason. I have lived in this area for 20 years, and within a few months in the late 90’s, three little girls disappeared in the area. None before then and none since. It is a rarity and to have 3 disappear in a short period of time had the entire community on alert. Two were later found killed (and turns out it was totally unrelated) and the 3rd is still to this day missing (current belief is that the child was hidden during a divorce case and not really kidnapped – mom was Korean and it’s believed the child was sent to family in Korea). This all happened just a year before my daughter was born. It was hard not to be overprotective, but I wanted her to really enjoy her childhood like I did and have the freedoms that I had. Even so, she still doesn’t have the same freedoms, but those are at least limited by the geography of the area and the changing times, not by dear old mom.

  23. farrarwilliams June 5, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    Thanks, Lenore, for point out that part of being “free range” as a parent should mean less blame and more letting go – not just of our kids, but of our own internal judgments.

  24. Rachel June 5, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    Just saw you speak in Park Slope– it was awesome. Even more of a fan now if that’s possible.

  25. Hippie Mama June 5, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    Just lovely! Thanks so much to both of you for sharing this.

  26. sara-cat June 5, 2011 at 5:43 am #

    Great story – thank you. One of the things I thought of when I read this was that having worst-case-scenario plans (i.e. what to do in case of fire, getting lost at a festival or mall, etc.) and teaching kids about things like bike safety is an important part of free-range parenting. If you have your ducks in a row and have made some contingency plans and taught the kids some important things about safety, etc., then you can give them more ‘space’ without freaking them out. So, the part of me that has to work on being a free-range parent has this question-slash-anxiety: have I taught my kids these things? The answer is no, not really. They are very young, and only the oldest is old enough to be taught things like our phone number (etc.) if he were to become lost. What do you guys think are the important things to teach? The first thing that comes to mind is to just teach common-sense stuff: our phone numbers, where to meet in case of fire, etc. But seeing this post made me realize that it’s not common-sense (to me) to tell kids to just look like they’re window shopping if they get lost in the mall. So, honestly I guess I’d really just like to develop a list. (PS: how do you ride a bike safely on the shoulder of a road when there are trucks going past? This isn’t a rhetorical question — I would actually like to know that.)

  27. Dolly June 5, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    sara-cat: One thing that kids and even adults need is a safe word. A weird not common word that you teach just immediate family that they can say or pass on to let people know that it is okay to go with them. Like if you need a friend or uncle to pick up your kids, arrange it with the friend and then tell them the safe word. Then they can tell the safe word to the kid and the kid will know it is safe to go with them. After that you can pick a new word.

    Hubby and I have a safe word and safe phrase and we even have a phrase to say like over the phone if we are NOT okay but would not want our captor to know we are tipping each other off. Smart, right?

    I actually am a worst case scenario thinker and having stuff like this make me feel safer. We have a zombie escape plan too as well as fire escape plan and tornado plan (which we had to use a couple weeks ago). Sometimes being a worrywart can be a good thing because you are never unprepared. As long as you don’t let it control you, then its a good thing. 🙂

  28. Stephanie - Home with the Kids June 5, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    I love stories like this. Free ranging really is a matter of knowing how to set safe limits. Kids will give you scares within those limits, but that’s how it goes.

    I figure my two year old will probably need more watching than my older two kids, for example. She’s the adventurous sort with no sense of caution. Just last weekend she fell into the deep end of her grandparents’ pool because she was chasing a ball. No big deal because I was right there watching her, so she was under for no more than if we had been dunking her. Scary as can be, since a bit of distraction would have made it worse, but that’s a situation where I pay much more attention. I already knew that she didn’t understand the pool rules yet, but I think she gets it just a little better now.

    I love watching her follow my older two as they play on the playground. We have some that get 8-10 feet tall, on a guess, and she just loves climbing up and going down the slides. She has even learned to hang onto the swing properly so that she doesn’t need the toddler swing so much anymore.

    Do I worry about all my kids? Of course. The older ones certainly get into mischief of their own sorts, but that’s fine. No one said this parenting gig was free from stress, but I prefer the stress that comes from letting my kids do things, rather than the stress of keeping them perfectly safe 24/7.

  29. Emily June 5, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    As a followup if anyone sees this, she does actually have a broken collarbone. Poor kiddo. But I know she’ll be okay. I do feel sad that it happened, but I also am thankfully not totally beating myself up, and I do credit some FR ideas with at least keeping that at bay. It’s sad that I actually wondered if I’d get a backlash posting it on Facebook–or what might the doctor say? When trust me I am a very attentive parent, so it’s sad that true accidents are a worry in our society. I like the platform stool idea, especially since she really likes helping in the kitchen. My husband isn’t really helicopter-ish, but he worries, and I agree counters feel unsafe sometimes even when they probably do more stuff that’s actually dangerous all the time.

  30. Wendy June 5, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    I love this story!

    I’m trying to be as free-range as possible with my 13 month old. The area I’m in is fairly free-range actually but starting with the 6-8 range mostly. I’m the only parent with a crawling baby on the playground. The other parents of kids my son’s age hold onto their kids and don’t let them near the actual play equipment except for the baby swings.

    I let my son crawl around and climb on the little kid playground (toddler). I’m always close by and the longest he’s out of my sight is about 10 seconds while I move the stroller when he goes around to the other side of the play structure. The other moms will run over to him and hover while he climbs. I don’t understand why because when he falls he just gets right back up again, no tears.

    Anybody have any ideas for more free-range type activities? I’m not quite sure and most ideas I see are for about 3+. Help?

  31. KyohakuKeisanki June 5, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    Wendy: For some reason your latest comment reminded me of this picture (real playground in Washington, D.C.): http://www.futureofcapitalism.com/pics/large/14.jpg

    Why is it that Canadians get to get on the playground equipment 6 months earlier than Americans?

    Oh, and add “6 months to 4 years for Germany” to the list (no, it doesn’t actually say that, but it might as well say it… frankly American kids are lacking in the recreational skills and opportunities [the latter being the cause of the former] department)

  32. Andromeda June 5, 2011 at 9:57 am #


    And as a once (and future?) bike commuter I hugely recommend Hurst’s _The Art of Urban Cycling_ (even for people who don’t live in cities; anyone who’s biking near car traffic). Roads look different to experienced street cyclists than they do to newbies, and people at different levels of experience have different assessments of where the dangers are; Hurst does a good job of spelling out what he’s learned. (sara-cat, this will answer your questions too. Although the BEST way to learn how to bike safely around cars is to join a cycling group and go on group rides and learn from others’ experience in the moment…)

  33. LRH June 5, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Well this is a great thing to read. It is most certainly possible for parents to let go of their fears, and be better parents for it.

    The examples in which we are free-range are many. Our kids are 2 & 4. A few days ago we went to the lake–we seem to all but live there during the summer–and I was cool with them going up to people they didn’t know and, in some cases, even lightly playing with other kids they had just met. The people liked it too, even when my 2 year-old son went up to an attractive sunbather and plopped himself onto her chest. (HA HA! Where was he when I was still single–girls are suckers for kids, ha ha.) Other times we may get the lake to ourselves, and I will let them run up & down the entire shoreline–a good 100 yards–while I’m about 60 feet or so from the shoreline enjoying the water myself. At a different lake I acquainted this young 20-something couple and they agreed to keep their eye on my 2 kids while I went farther out into the lake on my own for 10-15 minutes or so.

    I watch them during the day while my wife works, we live out in the boonies in the middle of nowhere–and for about an hour a day I turn them loose into a fenced-in area outdoors (it’s about 60 feet in diameter) and they play outdoors by themselves for a good hour or so totally on their own–we do this even on 100’F and 50’F days (obviously dressing them appropriately and having lots of water-fruit punch etc on the hot days–it’s somewhat shaded too). We will leave them in the car for a minute or two while we pay for gas or shop at garage sales (obviously on these 100’F days that time is way shorter than on milder days). They’re taught how to play independently indoors as well. When we walk from car to store in parking lots, often-times I train them how to walk themselves WITHOUT my holding their hand, although I am on them pretty heavily “stay close to me” and if it is busy-enough we will do the hands-holding deal.

    That’s not to say we don’t train them or play with them or interact with them ourselves some–sure, but it’s done in way to where it’s within the flow of us doing our own thing vs them completely taking things over.

    Congratulations again to the original poster. We support and encourage you wholeheartedly.


  34. Brownie June 5, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Great story!

    I agree about not intervening when he was about to jump on the dirt pile. Sometimes I want to yell “stop!” but knowing that if I do would be distracting and might cause damage.

  35. JMS June 5, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    The part about the dirt pile reminds me of something that happened when my son was quite small. He was about 18 months (maybe less) and we were at a local park with a friend whose daughter was approximately the same age. My son decided to run down a fairly steep grassy hill, and since he was less than steady on his feet (still a toddler after all), I knew this wasn’t going to end well. I also knew there was no way 1)I could there in time and 2)he could stop the momentum. So I just said out loud, mostly to myself, “Oh, you are going to biff it so hard.” My friend just laughed…and told me later that this was when she realized we were going to be friends.

    My son, BTW, did fall. But he got back up and went back up the hill and tried it over and over again and had a great time.

  36. timkenwest June 5, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    >> Lenore, I really like how you’ve been adding “Free-Range believes in preparing our kids to deal with the world, not just throwing them out there” to your comments lately. I think this is a great message to drill in to the newbies & nay-sayers.

    >> sara-cat et al., I totally hear you about the value of worst case scenario plans. It reminds me of how when I lived on my own in a house, I had a terrible time sleeping for all the horrible thoughts going through my head. The solution was to visualized a detailed plan about how I would defend myself and escape if someone broke in (lamp makes a great weapon!) Nothing changed except my own mental preparedness, but it was enough to let me sleep soundly.

    >> Wendy: my free-range m.o. with my 20 month old is to always ask “can you (climb up / get out of car seat / chose a shirt / get your brush / etc etc etc)?” before doing it for her. There’s a few things she’s still too little to do on her own, so no problem, I help her out. On the other hand, there’s tonnes of things she’s surprised me with by being able to do. I actually got the idea to do this from a few of the comments on this site. Even though we’re really free-range in my house, I would read comments like “my kids isn’t even two and dresses himself.” and I’d think “Can my daughter do that?” I just assumed she couldn’t. So now I ask.

    Hope that helps.

  37. FrancesfromCanada June 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    I want to say that Canadian 18-mo-olds are just more agile at the playground, but I’m pretty sure that’s not it! Different governing agencies…and maybe the likelihood of getting sued is lower up here.

    My little guy stands on a chair in the kitchen. He can reach as far as he needs to from there (which is not quite far enough to get the knives).

    @timkenwest — I like your suggestion to get toddlers to try on their own before you help…but most of the time all I get back is “no, I can’t!”. Except, of course, when it comes to trying things like, say, cutting things with those same sharp knives! Then it’s all about doing it himself. Sigh.

    Nice post.

  38. Dawn June 5, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    re: climbers. My mother still tells the story of one day when she looked out the kitchen window and saw me, at 18 months, on top of the jungle gym. With her heart in her throat, she calmly opened the back door and called out that it was lunchtime, then turned her back. A few minutes later, I walked in the door. She doesn’t know how I got up or down.

    @Emily: poor baby. I broke mine (no one knows how) as a young child, too. Fortunately, bones heal. And good for you that you are continuing to parent and educate.

    My daughter, at about 13 months, pulled the (small 3 drawer dresser) over onto herself because she wanted to climb up to the shelves above to play with some ornaments. She had pulled out each drawer just enough to make steps. Fortunately, it fell over before she was on step 3! A lovely goose egg on her head, just about a week after she’d had one from climbing out of her crib and falling to the floor.

    Kids do the darnedest things and you can’t stop them.

  39. Jonathan hoch June 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    We have a rule that if our six year old gets lost, we look for him, he does not look for is. He is also taught to go to the nearest adult and ask for help.


  40. AirborneVet June 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    Whenever my son looks like he is going to do something stupid, but not life threatening, I tell him to either be careful or “That’s not a good idea.” If he does it anyway and gets hurt I then ask him if he learned anything. He’s only 4 and he may try the same stunt once more, but he has already figured out that sometimes, Mommy is right and he doesn’t do it again. Of course, I’m right only b/c I learned the same way! 😉

  41. KyohakuKeisanki June 5, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    @AirborneVet: Or, he learns how to do it correctly (well, for some things… others are definitely unsafe [chances are, even the most dangerous thing that you could imagine a 10-year-old doing on a playground falls {no pun intended} into that first category, though… when I say “definitely unsafe”, I’m referring to things like running in a busy street {or driving in one for that matter… joking only somewhat}… those things which have a very real risk of death]). Look on a Facebook group called “I played at Dennis the Menace Park and lived!”… quite a few of the pictures are of kids doing those “stupid but not life-threatening things” (heh, you could even say that some of the equipment itself falls into that category). This picture particularly comes to mind, especially in light of the Dirt Pile mentioned in the previous post: http://a7.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/19355_1333485145994_1497022124_921218_6270406_n.jpg

    Try finding something like THAT nowadays (and I mean in the USA… if the sign next to the playground says “Spielplatz”, then you’re cheating). Other pictures showed many other things, the most infamous of which was a large spinning “helicopter” about 6 feet in the air (spun by a kid holding on to a handle on the bottom and running around… from what I hear, sometimes they would bring ropes and tie them to that handle to be able to run in a tighter circle while spinning it, making it go much faster than usual)… the only way to get on or off was to have correct timing, if you know what I mean (look at the pictures on that group and all will become clear… I can’t post an additional link because of the spam filters). Basically imaging climbing to the top (and I mean the TOP… as in the part nobody today wants kids to go) of the playground equipment. Now imagine doing that while it is spinning around, then add in having to get on at the right split-second or risk a 6-foot fall to a couple inches of sand. Then imagine having to get OFF at the right split-second… much harder.

  42. pentamom June 5, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

    “I like your suggestion to get toddlers to try on their own before you help…but most of the time all I get back is “no, I can’t!”.

    Well then the solution is, in situations where you’re pretty sure the child can get it right, you have the time, and it’s not urgent, just let him do without whatever it is until he figures it out, and inform him that you’re just not interested in the whining. Not every time of course, that would be frustrating for a child that young, but every so often, offer that lesson “passively.”

  43. pentamom June 5, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Oh, and in using the above strategy, it’s probably good to be pro-active in those times when you don’t want to or are not able to wait it out — don’t give the child the chance to ask, just do whatever needs to be done. Otherwise, it’s a mixed message — sometimes begging works, so why not just keep trying it?

  44. JeninCanada June 6, 2011 at 12:45 am #

    Congratulations, happier mom! I can only say THIS x 100 and hope more parents follow suit, whether our ‘crazy’ is overprotective, food-policing, body policing or whatever! 🙂

    “So, I am getting there slowly, and weening myself and my kids off my crazy. “

  45. SKL June 6, 2011 at 2:22 am #

    To get my kids to be “willing” to do things they may find tedious (and pretend are too hard), I structure the time available so that the “tedious” stuff HAS to be done or the “fun” stuff gets missed.

    It’s really amazing how, one day, it can take 15 seconds to tie a shoe, and the next, it takes 10 minutes (and is mysteriously painful). Motivation is key.

    As for kids scaring the pants off us – I think I’ve gotten pretty good at faking it! The other day my 4yo was backing up while standing on a stool at a museum exhibit. She backed to the point where her heels were inches off the edge of the stool. I was pretty sure she was going to take a tumble – but I kept calm – and she didn’t fall (nor even falter). Seems she had a better sense of space and balance than I thought. But after all appeared stable again, I did tell her to get off the stool, since her antics were indicating an escalation of foolishness (and we were not in a place where foolishness was ideal).

    Also recently, I was with my other 4yo, waiting for the elevator. Both elevator doors opened at the same time. We agreed to meet each other on the 1st floor, then got into the separate elevators. As I got into my elevator, I said “push 1 to go down.” Went down, got out – the other elevator opens and there’s no kid in there. Hmm. Went up to the other floors to see if the elevator had gone up instead of down, or if my kid had run out at the last minute. No kid. Went back down to 1 and called, “is Miss X anywhere nearby?” Here comes a man who had found my daughter hanging around. I think he expected me to be all “oh, I found you, don’t ever do that again!!” But I just smiled, “did the elevator go up instead of down?” and we continued on our way. It’s a learning experience. If it didn’t scare her, why should it scare me?

  46. JMS June 6, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    My aunt was apparently a daredevil as a young child. As the family story goes, my grandfather had purchased the lot adjacent to their home and was building a new house there. (This would be in probably 1938 or so.) They had the frame up but little else, and my aunt who was about three climbed up the ladder and was walking across one of the beams that would eventually become the roof/ceiling when my grandmother found her.

    Grandma, to her credit, was able to speak calmly to her daughter and get her down safely. She said she only was able to do this because she knew if she flipped out, she’d scare my aunt and would increase the likelihood of her falling. Extra precautions were taken after that regarding my aunt and the construction site.

  47. Emiky June 6, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Wonderful story to hear! Very positive. I agree: Happier Mom is very Freerange as she teaches her kids how to take care of themselves… which is what kids need.

  48. SK- June 6, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    @ Emily:

    My youngest child has been sitting in strange places since she had the ability to put herself there. Until she started getting to pick she LOVED sitting like a parrot on the back of my chair/shoulder. When she was very little kind people use to come and physically take her off me without asking because they where afraid she’d fall. Oddly enough the only time she’s ever got hurt from sitting on me like that was when someone else interfered.

    My rule is if she can get herself someplace then she’s most likely got the skills/balance to be there, oh and I don’t get her down so she’d better be able to get herself down. I’ve used that with all my kids and we’ve had a few bumps and knocks but my kids are confident.

  49. Jessika June 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    All you can really demand of yourself is to change that which is bothering you about yourself. Good luck to mom that’s going free-range in other words :).

    I can’t, however, believe that children are setting themselves up to be bullied. Sometimes they are just chosen as scapegoats of a group. Nothing wrong with their social abilities etc., someone just found their weak spots.

  50. sonya June 6, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    I find it hard to imagine that there might be kids who aren’t able to fly solo at age 18. Flying is easier than driving in a new place. If kids fly as unaccompanied minors a few times, then by the time they are allowed to go as regular passengers they’ll be accustomed to it enough that it seems no big deal. I remember being offended when I was asked at age 14 whether I needed UM treatment, having flown that route a dozen times…

    The bar I’m aiming for is for my kids, once they are young adults, to be able to arrive in a new town, find a place to rent, manage their bank account and feed themselves, without any assistance from me. I could do that by age 19, I hope they will.

  51. EricS June 7, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    Live and learn. As my pappy always told me, “you never stop learning”. There is hope after all.

  52. Mom's Journal June 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    I just wanted to say that I love this part the best. “…The mom next to me recognized it at the same time and asked me if I was going to yell and stop him. I said no, because he was going to jump anyway and if I yelled to stop him (because there was no way I was going to be able to walk over in time) he needed to be 100% committed to the jump and not be distracted, or he would get hurt. ” 😉

  53. Hineata June 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    @Wendy – your wee one is probably in more danger from other children than from any of the equipment….I say this after watching my very freerange ‘baby’ (3 at the time, and always chasing after the others – I think we can’t help but get more relaxed, the more kids we have!) come tumbling down from an 8 foot platform and take out the poor baby (about 18 months) who was very carefully pulling himself up the ladder below her! She broke her arm- healed quickly- but he, poor child, probably still suffers from a fear of falling objects, LOL!
    Good on you, Happier Mom – you can’t prevent life happening to your kids, but you can help them deal with it….

  54. Rachel June 8, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Wendy – I think letting the baby play w/ other kids w/ as little interference as possible is good. Also get dirty, get wet, explore…

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