HELP NEEDED: How to Calm a Parent Who Fears Danger AND Blame?

Hi Readers! Here’s my situation: When I speak with parents who feel they really have to watch their kids ALL the time, often it’s not just because they fear  that otherwise “something terrible” could happen. It’s also  because they fear that IF something does, THEY will be blamed.

So even if parents are pretty sure their son, say, is ready to walk to school, or scooter on the sidewalk, or play basketball in the park with his friends, they still won’t let him do it, on the off-chance of that double whammy: Disaster + blame — blame they will heap on themselves and blame that others will happily heap, too.

My questions for you (since I hope you know I often rely on you for ideas and inspiration): Is there anything that has helped YOU get over that one-two punch? And is there anything that you have ever used that helped anyone ELSE get over those fears? Any psychological exercises or examples or just surprisingly effective arguments?

I find that my rational reassurances — “The odds are overwhelmingly in your favor!” — run straight into the wall of, “Yes, but it only takes ONE TIME.” Or, worse, “It only takes ONE SECOND…” (That “one second” thing kills me. It’s like EVERY SECOND is going to be their kid’s last.)

So I’d love to hear some more ideas of how to talk folks down from constant terror, because it sweeping the globe. (And as for WHY it is sweeping the globe, I’m not even getting into how mad I am at certain cable shows that have recently begged parents to, “Never take your eyes off your kids!” Because my seething goes without saying.)  — Lenore

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146 Responses to HELP NEEDED: How to Calm a Parent Who Fears Danger AND Blame?

  1. Jason August 3, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    I wonder if building a support network could help. For instance what if everyone who has had these fears took 5 minutes to write a letter of support to a partent in this situation. Or a lawmaker or someone.

    Just a thought.

  2. Chris August 3, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    For me, it’s just reminding people of their own lives – how old were you when you walked to school alone (5-6?), or waited for the school bus by yourself, or even babysat (11?). And then I hear the inevitable, “but it’s more dangerous now” comment. At which point I bite my tongue, but mostly my response is that your children grow up in spite of you, not because of you.

    I think you have to have almost had an Awful Experience; one in which you know you are helpless to control the situation no matter the outcome, to really appreciate that yes, there is a moment in time in which Danger is present, and yes, that is a terrible, terrible thing and you can’t always stop it or fix it. At that point you stop blaming yourself and accept that the world is a bigger place than you have power over and you can either fear it or just live with it. (After the years of therapy that it takes to get over such a moment, of course.)

    Live vicariously through others’ good experiences, instead of others bad ones.

  3. anonymous August 3, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    For me its reminding myself how much they WILL lose if I don’t give them the opportunities to explore and grow.

  4. Liz August 3, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Ultimately, parenting is a long series of choices. You choose to breastfeed or not, to circumcise or not, to co-sleep, to spank, to hover, and so on throughout their lives. A lot of those choices have to do with safety, because it’s one of those big things you’re responsible for.

    So, you drive your kids to a music class because it’s enriching and you think they’ll gain something important. But that’s a dangerous thing you did, sticking your kid in a car. You took their lives into your hands because you thought it was worth it, that the benefit outweighed the risk. And if someone called you irresponsible for that choice, you’d probably be able to dismiss it, because EVERYONE drives their kids to things. But in reality, it’s not any different than letting them walk home alone. In fact, walking home alone is measurably safer. Fifty years ago, you would have dismissed someone who called you irresponsible for letting your child walk home alone, because EVERYONE lets their kids walk home. Yes, you can follow the societal norms thoughtlessly and avoid your risk of blame, but at that point why bother to raise your own children? If you’re not personally involved in the choices you make about what’s right for your child, you’re not parenting, you’re parroting.

    This is the essence of parenting, making YOUR best choices, not everyone’s best choices. By all means listen to experts, to family, to friends. Take the thoughts of others into account, but don’t let them rule your choices. You’re the only one who should be deciding what risk is worth it and what isn’t. You think free-ranging it will help your child? Then do it, commit to it, this is what being a parent is.

  5. Nick Klaus August 3, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    There is only so much you can control. You can’t control the weather, you can’t plan for acts of G-d, and you can’t control strangers.

    Of course you want to be a good parent. That’s why you worry. That’s why you want to do everything you possibly can. Even if you’re a perfect parent, something can go wrong. And when it does, there’s nothing you can do about it. But because there’s nothing you can do about it, worrying about ‘what ifs’ isn’t going to help anything.

    All you can do is be smart. Teach your kids to be savvy about what’s safe and what isn’t. Let them have their freedom, but be the one to help them make smart choices. The more they have their internal watchdogs trained, the less you have to be that watchdog.

  6. Liz S. August 3, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    Well, I will tell you, I am very new at this, because my eldest child is not quite four. and my child and I fight a modicum of anxiety which clearly has a genetic component. That being said, I am determined that he will NOT fall into the fear trap if I can help it. Which, I am confident, I can to a large degree by empowering him to deal with his world and face it head-on, with his brain engaged!
    When people give me that “one second” crap, I usually relte to them a part of my own story. Usually, it goes something like this: My mother was afraid of EVERYTHING. We were kept from doing SO many normal childhood things (swimming in the ocean, anyone? Not us. We could only go in to our knees!) because of her irrational fears. But the real danger she SHOULD have been protecting us from? The man who regularly sexually abused his OWN children? Slept next to her every night for 25 years. We cannot predict what will befall our children. The best thing we can do is empower them to HANDLE the world around them by making smart, thought-through decisions, and give them opportunities to practice what we teach them. And, empower them to speak up for what they believe is right, whether we always agree with their beliefs or not. I believe power is in the voice, and I will not force my child into silent, unquestioning, unthinking compliance. That usually shuts people up.
    I will also say, though, that I too often find myself governing my choices regarding my childs freedom based on my fear of busybodies calling DSS on me! I am terrified of things like that. IT is my understanding that in SC (as I assume it is in most places?) if a call is made, it MUST be investigated, no matter how stupid. I get yelled at by my neighbors for the stupidest things. Last winter one afternoon it was approx 60 degrees outside (*BRRRRRR* ) a neighbor yelled at me for letting my child go barefoot on a walk. Seriously! I replied with, “sir, he is very capable of deciding when he is cold enough to want socks and shoes. It’s not like it’s 20 degrees out”. *sigh*. That’s the kind of thing I worry about…stupid neighbors!! Any suggestions on how to handle those kinds of situations would be immensely appreciated.

  7. Liz S. August 3, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Please forgive my typos– I one-thumbed that whole missive from my phone! Haha.

  8. mightyoaksandlittleacorns August 3, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    I played outdoors for hours-on-end when I was a kid and only came inside at dinnertime when I would hear my Mom yelling out the door for me. I grew up in a quiet neighborhood where most people knew each other. But when I was 11 years old I had a scary experience. A girlfriend and I were riding our bicycles a few blocks from home when two men in a white conversion van tried to coax us into their vehicle. When we started to pedal faster, one of them opened up the side door and proceeded to swing a bat at us in order to knock us out and force us into the van. We were able to get away, but were traumatized over it. I still get the “chills” when I see a white van. This happened in the early 80’s and we never told our parents about it until we were older. That said, I do want my kids to grow up to be independent and try to put that experience at the back of my mind.

  9. Danial August 3, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Sometimes I feel at a loss about how to do free-range. My son is four months and after I heard about this blog and learned what it was about, I started reading it hoping for ways to raise a free-range kid.

    The blog more often than not posts things that frustrate me and increase my worries that by the time my son can walk to school he won’t be allowed to do so.

    Personally, I’d like to see more posts/discussion on how to do free-range right, instead of post after post of cops picking up kids, parents getting in trouble for [whatever] and crazy new laws. Those things are important, but I feel like they’ve been the majority lately.

    I want hope that things can change – not confirmation that the scare tactics are working.

  10. Russell August 3, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    One practical piece of advice I would offer is to find just one other person in your area with a similar aged child, and do something with them, then next time (or when you’re ready) let the 2 kids do something together. (If you’re worried, covert surveillance might be appropriate the first time, a mobile phone will often help).
    The main thing here is that not only are 2 kids safer than one, the blame thing is much easier to deal with – after all if the activity was so dangerous, then Mrs X wouldn’t let little Johnny X do it either. Is’t rationalisation, but it’s also real.

  11. Heather August 3, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    I try to reason, “If something catastrophic were to happen, what was I doing at that time?” Let’s see. If I’m in the bathroom using the toilet while the toddler… hmm…. colors all over herself with markers that she could reach because one of her siblings (the 3.5 year old?) didn’t push their chair in, who’s going to tell me I was wrong? Am I allowed to use the toilet alone, for Heaven’s sake?
    If said toddler falls from the table while I was in the basement moving laundry from the washer to the dryer or getting bread from the freezer, is that reasonable? Should I have taken the toddler with me and been unable to bring the laundry basket upstairs? Made the kids wait for lunch? Put the toddler in her crib every time I need to take my eyes off her?
    And also, like Chris said above, I remember how old I was when I did things like take a couple mile bike ride with a friend to the municipal pool. Or walk home from school by myself. Or Heaven forbid, hang out at the mall for a Saturday afternoon.

  12. Paul Cyopick August 3, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    I just don’t give a rats ass about what others think about me. Everyone else is a perfect parent for your kids… on paper. Just take in all the advice and follow your gut feeling.

    I get told all the time how horrible a parent I am for letting my kids play outside by themselves (in a fraking fenced in security gated area), but I know that I’m doing the right thing, so to heck with everyone else. Be true to yourself, and don’t listen to the nay sayers.

  13. Renee P August 3, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    My stock response to people who tried to guilt trip me into hovering more/not sending my child on the bus/letting her stay home alone was something like this: “Sure, there’s a very small chance that she could get hurt, or even killed, in a moment I’m not watching. But if I DON’T let her take some risks, there’s pretty much a 100% chance she’ll grow up neurotically afraid of the world around her, or worse, lacking any instincts that might raise her hackles in the rare instance she DOES meet a walking threat to humanity. I have to swallow hard and accept this minuscule risk, in order to raise a functioning adult. ” I also often point out that if she makes mistakes while she lives at home, I can pick up on them quicker, and help her out in a pinch, or tell her not to do THAT anymore.

    These days, I hear a lot less about blame – she’s 16, and all but the most conservative parents I know are letting their kids off the leash now. I got her through mostly unscathed. I dealt with one ER physician who thought I shouldn’t be letting her try to swing herself upside down on the trapeze on her swingset (she was 10 – had tried it from a running start, and ended up with a concussion). Despite the fact she’d been unsupervised at the time, CPS wasn’t called, I just had to listen to a lecture. Immediately thereafter, as we were walking out of the ER, I got this gem from my daughter “I’m not going to quit swinging upside down on my trapeze just because some doctor says so…that’s CRAZY!” I agreed as we walked out, and life was fine. A very few, very unlucky people have to deal with someone blaming them for their child’s misfortune. A few very vocal people make their lives miserable. Most of us escape our children’s childhood’s unscathed, and worrying about being blamed for something that’s probably not going to happen is as pointless as worrying excessively about it happening in the first place. If the risk of one is acceptably small, so is the other.

  14. Jasmin August 3, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    There is a useful practice they use in cognitive behavioral psychology called “catastrophizing”. You go through the thing you’re worried about, and take it aaaaaaaall the way through to the end. It is remarkably useful for not freaking out about things that you can’t control.

  15. SKL August 3, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I am not over it yet myself. However, some ideas come to mind:

    1) When you were a child, did you do X and come out OK?

    1a) If you have memories that aren’t all good from your free childhood, can you think of other ways (besides sheltering) to reduce your kid’s risks?

    2) Make a list of awesome things that kids have done when / because parents were NOT watching. Review it periodically to keep it at the front of your mind when you let your kid go.

    3) Remember the risks of letting your kids stay inside all the time. Getting blind and fat, thinking TV is real, killing their siblings . . ..

    4) You are making your neighborhood a safer place for the neighbor kids by having your kids play outside (and vice versa). Also, your neighbors will recognize your kids and are more likely to notice and step in if they see something fishy going on.

    5) Find out the laws about child supervision in your area. Chances are there is no 24-hour leash law for kids.

    6) Talk to your kid about street smarts and what to say if someone approaches them – whether it’s to “help” them or otherwise. If the kid comes across as being very competent in the mission he’s on, chances are the “helpful” adult will buzz off.

    7) What do you want your child to be able to accomplish independently when he’s 18? He’s __% of the way to 18. Is he on track?

    8) What I say to my kids: what other people and their kids do is not my business. What my kids do is my business and I’m the boss of that. Period.

  16. This girl loves to Talk August 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I dont have much advice but once here in Australia an Uncle had taken some kids to a water park and a child drowned. Then a few years later while at a local pool a Dad had his kid out of the pool in the changeroom and while he changed the child wandered away and drowned.These incidents lead to a discussion amongst our family.

    I said to my husband that we had to vow NOW that if our children were harmed (as in accident, NOT ON PURPOSE) in eachothers company or that of grandparents that we would not blame eachother/them.

    Now of course this is EASY to say when nothing tragic has ever happened but Its a little mantra to have in the back of ones minds. If something is truly an accident then it is not your fault or theirs.

  17. JustSomeGuy August 3, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    I wonder if the catastrophic thinking that seems so prevalent might be, at least in part, because our lives are so comparatively safe these days. That is to say, when life was less safe, people saw tragedy around them regularly and gained some experience with it. Now, though, we might have less of that, and, like a 2-year-old whose crayon broke, we simply don’t have the tools to deal with it, and so we fear it irrationally.

    I’m not trying to suggest that we should glorify the days when death and major injury were comparatively common, but that we should realize that our own fear might be rooted in own own ignorance and inexperience.

  18. dudarina August 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    Life is uncertain.

    I have a 21-yr-old, a 16-yr-old, and a three-year-old. When my eldest was small I was certain that we would all live forever and never for a moment doubted the certainty of life. This resulted in a quite a bit of freedom for him, since I was blissfully unaware of all of the potential tragedies awaiting him.

    You might think that my experience with harsh realities of life would result in a much more protective stance, but at least in my case, it’s been quite the contrary: I know life is fleeting. I know my job as a parent is to prepare my young to care for themselves. I know I cannot possibly control all of the variables. I realize that all I can do is parent to the best of my abilities and hope that my offspring are smart enough and wise enough and self-aware enough to carry on my genes.

    Life is fragile. Appreciate what you have while you have it. And try to remember–it was going on long before you got here, and it will continue long after you’re gone. Your children will be OK, despite your best efforts.

  19. Ariel August 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Maybe I missed it but your biggest fear of blame should be “criminal negligence”. Trust me, there’s a prosecutor out there just waiting to pin that on you.

  20. dudarina August 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    I don’t understand your point, Ariel. Are you saying that we should fear punishment to the point that we’re afraid to let our kids grow because of what might happen?

  21. North of 49 August 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    It was a sunny day today. It was a sunny day yesterday, There were several sunny days last week. Can I convince my nearly 9 year old son to go outside and play? To go ride on his bike? To explore?

    Nope. He’s too scared. He wants his own celphone. At first I thought it was for emergencies, then he admitted to wanting to call his friends, and play games and and and… So, I said no to the celphone. He still won’t go out and play.

    Why? Because of being bullied in the past. Because of the stuff they tell him in school. Because he has no buddy to play with. Because because because.

    When I was 8 and 9, I spent all day outside during the summer. All day and several hours after supper before I had to come in. I wish there was a way for me to convince him to run and play, but there isn’t.

    And if I can’t convince him to do it, how are my two girls who are younger than him supposed to follow?

    It is a bad situation. Kids no longer able to roam. To explore. To learn. To be kids. Yet, if we let them and *something* happens, we’re at fault for not being too careful. Kids can’t go and buy stuff at the store because “they might steal.” (oh noes!) They can’t do the stuff we used to take for granted. Two years ago, I was given a dressing down by a “child safety expert” for giving my son some money and telling him if he wanted cotton candy to go get it himself. I was told that he could get lost, hurt, taken by someone… the list was endless, and how careless and what a bad mother I was for not taking him there.

    I batted my eyes and replied “this is a completely fenced in fair, surrounded on all sides by an 8 foot high fence for that matter, we live two blocks away, and the entire distance that the fair covers is less than a full square block. I seriously doubt something will happen. Besides, he has to learn to do it himself.”

    She stood there, looking at me like I was an idiot and my son came bouncing back with a sugar coated grin. When one of my daughters disappeared an hour later, she wasn’t hard to find – she had taken off to the swing set/play area. Nothing happened with either child.

    Small victories. I just wish the doomsayers would lay off and let kids explore.

  22. Wendy Case August 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    My child is only 15 months old, but when people say “aren’t you afraid that he’ll get hurt” when I let him play on the play on the toddler playground just out of my sight I tell them that he needs to learn that it’s okay to fall down or get hurt. He’ll be fine. It’ll be worse if he never learns danger or how to make his own choices.

  23. Rachel August 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    At the end of the day, as long as your child is reasonably sensible, there’s not much that could happen to him alone that couldn’t happen with you looking on. When they’re with you they aren’t actually chained to you, you wouldn’t be directly underneath the monkey bars to catch them if they fell (would you?).
    I know that the fear of blame thing is very strong, probably mainly because the visible part of free-range parenting can look deceptively like the visible part of neglective or lax parenting. But should tragedy strike (as Lenore points out time and again, this is a one in a mililon chance, but as opposers point out, for that ‘one’, it’s 100% happened) being to blame is either having caused whatever happened, or not having taken enough precautions to prevent it. After that it’s all a matter of what precautions. Bringing up a sensible child, able to fend for himself, cope with minor mishaps alone and recognise suitable sources of help for larger problems is one heck of a precaution. Other precautions would include perhaps practicing with a parent the route they are to walk alone, knowing their home number and a relevant cellphone number, how to cross the road safely, etc.
    The kind of dangers we are afraid of are akin to someone else running into our car (not us running into someone else’s, that’s parallel to a fear that you would accidentally PUSH your child off the monkey bars). You can’t control that either, you just take the appropriate precautions – wearing seatbelts, indicating when changing lanes, keeping brakelights in working order – and if it happens, you know you are not to blame (in fact, if someone were to imply that you were, you still wouldn’t doubt yourself for a moment). It takes some work to get used to the idea, but this is the same.

    Good luck

  24. This girl loves to Talk August 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    can I steal a comment from yesterdays post?? Nanci’s comment yesterday struck me straight to the chest because it was so good! esp the bit about if we seek complete safety it is an ILLUSION that will DESTROY US!! (wow!! I come here to this site for things that help me be free range. I am in middle grounder about it all)

    Nanci, on August 1, 2011 at 12:22 said:

    I realize this incident happened in Canada, but I’m sure it happens in the U.S. also. I really think the bottom line problem is that our society today is “too safe”. When we begin to defeat all the things that used to be dangerous and become safer we lose quite a bit of perspective. We start to gauge safety/danger against absolute safety.

    150 years ago it was almost unheard of for any family to have all of their children survive to adulthood. There were so many dangers facing families back then, from diseases to wild animals, to harsh living conditions, to dangerous machinery and so on. Everyone expected people to die, they expected serious illness with little medical care, they expected harsh living conditions. No one looked for someone to blame when a particularly cold winter claimed many lives, or an outbreak of typhus swept through. Even 75 years ago young people were being killed by polio and world wars.

    Now days though America is so safe that we have begun to see death as unnatural.

    Especially the death of a child, surely something can be done to prevent it! Surely if the parents would have just done a better job, been more vigilant, their child would be okay. And so now we have generations growing up with the idea that if you protect enough you can prevent any tragedy. The idea that a child could die seems so wrong.

    This is America, it’s 2011, we have good hospitals, doctors, everything is state of the art, surely there is no place in this society for children to die! Any thing that ever kills any child, no matter how freak the accident, there will be a product on the market within months that would have prevented life from happening.

    In third world countries they do not have these issues with free range parenting. There children do still die, they have diseases, they have harsh living conditions, and they have the freedom to live without the fear that they must create a absolutely safe environment for their children. They know it’s impossible!

    Unfortunately in America we are so close to complete safety that we can’t see that it’s an illusion that will destroy us if we seek it.

    There has never been a safer place or time in history to raise children than America in 2011, and yet parents are more paranoid than they have ever been. Parents today will only accept absolute safety, nothing less, unfortunately the victims of this screwed up thinking are their children, and eventually all of because as we all know the children are the future. Too bad this next generation will be living in their parents basements playing video games into their 30′s

  25. MamaPoodle August 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Yesterday I was waiting on help for a flat tire. My almost 2yr old was halfway up the block looking in the window of our downstairs neighbor saying ‘fan’ repeatedly as I agreed with him and asked him questions about it and generally tried to get him to come to me. I was waiting by my car when my help arrived so I moved out of the way towards my son. I saw a police car pull up and immediately got nervous. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but why was she stopping next to my son? I reached him as the officer got out of her car and asked if he was mine. I said yes, his name is Jamie. She said, ‘Why is he out here alone?’ I was stunned! Really? I answered, ‘He’s not, I’m right here.’ She pointed to the car of my friend that had just arrived to help and said, ‘Didn’t you just pull in?’ I assured her that, no, I’d been here the whole time and she made some sad and horrible ‘runaway’ joke before getting in her car and leaving. What’s to stop an officer from picking my son up at 5 or 6 when he’s outside playing alone? When does it start? For that matter, where does it end?

  26. Rebecca August 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    For me, the most powerful reason to let go of the feer was that is was hurting my kids. My most happy, joyful memories of being a kid were walking home through the woods, playing alone on a driftwood strewn beach, sitting and pulling up grass and digging holes and being completly at peace with in my own world of imagination. My oldest son was diagnosed with Austism at four and we had to be VERY vigiglant in our watch over him when we was younger or he would not have survived todlerhood. When my other kids came along, I parented them very much the same way…if we were outside, they had to be holding my hands. period. I have four kids (9,7,5 and 2) and I have gradually moved from a freekishly over protective mom to a free range mom becuase I have seen the how the former hurt them and the latter had a positive impact. That simple. I decided that it is never good to make parenting decisions based on FEER. It is always good to make them based on WISDOM and despite the modern cultural concess on parenting, those are not the same thing.

  27. Mel B. August 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Nothing actually has to happen for there to be blame. Until a couple of weeks ago, I allowed my 8-year-old and 5-year-old to go out and explore the neighborhood. The rule was they were restricted to our small and closed-off suburban neighborhood and they were to always stay together. They made a few friends, I met the parents (they also aren’t allowed to go into houses until I meet the parents and say it’s OK). A neighbor called the police, reporting that a 3- and 4-year old were unattended outside. The police escorted my girls home (they refused to get into the police car), a police report was generated, and DCFS is investigating me for neglect. My elder daughter heard the social worker threaten me with felony charges and the removal of my children from the home. She also heard the social worker inform me that the children shouldn’t be allowed to leave the yard unsupervised until they are 12. She’s been having nightmares since.

    I feel like I am in a situation in which I can either be right or be happy. The social worker has already lied to my mother about the situation, exaggerating circumstances (claiming that my children got into the neighbor’s vehicle). Yes. I am afraid, not of a boogyman, but of my neighbor and the social worker. I’m afraid that if I keep my children in, they are going to be stunted. They’ve had a taste of freedom and it agreed with them. Now, my elder daughter is afraid that if she goes down the street to play with a friend, she’s going to come home to the police taking me away.

    How do we change this culture? The parents of the friends my children have made are also free-range, to greater or lesser degree. Our neighborhood is in transition from elderly, long-term homeowners, to younger families. We don’t have enough younger families yet. Logic and rational thinking are no match for fear.

  28. Jacqui Guglielmino August 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    My story is one of my biggest lessons I have learnt in life. My third child was born with a congenital heart problem. I spent every day and night of that child’s life worry and trying to control his life so he did not die. I read everything, I asked for the best doctors the best treatment. I worried about my other two children too. Then even though it wasn’t meant to happen… he died. After the shock and grief started to abide I realised I can’t control anything really. It was the most freeing thought. I don’t loose any sleep over my children’s activities any more and I had a healthy baby after the death of this child. I supervise them and advise then but I let them experience life and solve their own problems.

  29. Jonathan August 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    I think there are two parts to te answer. The first is stressing the (un)likelihood that anything will matter. The second part is making parents understand how giving your kids freedom enables them to become smart, bold, creative, and successful. You could potentially play on parents’ competitiveness (“Do you want little Susie to be the boss, or somebody’s employee?”). You can also talk about how, yes, they’re keeping their kids safe, but they’re also keeping him a baby. If they don’t start learning to be an adult until they’re free of their parents (whether that’s 18, 22, or 30-something) they’re going to be way behind their “peers”.

  30. Cass August 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    This question is the heart of the free ranging problem. Solve it and you will not need to blog again.

    I often both ponder and struggle with the idea that I easily engage my child in high risk activities confidently, because everyone else does it, while questioning low risk activities, because no one else does them. For example I dont think twice driving a vehicle but hesitate to let my daughter play alone in the fully fenced front yard.

    Subconsciously I am affected by the herd. If everyone does it then it is safe, if no one does it then it must be unsafe. This is a good part of living in a society, we don’t need to answer every question ourselves, we can just look around and follow others. This is also a bad part of living in society, if society is wrong we are in a tough place. If we follow we won’t be judged but if we go against the flow then we will be fully judged for doing so.

    That is my answer. The mother is frightened of judgement should something go wrong. This is really an important aspect of society allowing us to live a life in which we don’t have to research every step. When society is wrong it becomes up to a select bunch to challenge the norm and go against the flow… They will be judged for wert mistake until/unless their way becomes the norm.

  31. Cass August 3, 2011 at 7:18 pm #


    I think you make a good point, though the odd positive post does come through. I would love to see a weekly feature, be it a positive how-to article by Lenore or just a weekly spotlight on a readers positive story, complete with challenges.

  32. Emily August 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    When I was teaching high school English, I had a parent of a 14 year old freshman call me to discuss her son’s essay with me because she did not like the grade he received. I politely informed her that I would be happy to discuss the grade–with her son. She disagreed. It was her job. I said that since he was the author of the essay (theoretically), he was the one who needed to sit down with the teacher to determine what he could have done better. She told me she would agree with me if he were a freshman in college. I wish I had had the courage to ask her “Do you think he’ll wake up on his 18th birthday knowing how to do these things?” I did insist that the boy make an appointment with me and talk over the grade with me. But the mother was horrified by my stance and was combative with me the rest of the school year.

    My takeaway from this was that children not only need to be allowed and encouraged to take on challenges while they are still children, but they also need to sometimes be pushed. Obviously, this was not a safety issue, but it does give an example of what happens when parents don’t allow their children to be individuals. That’s what free range parenting is all about–letting your children be responsible for themselves and experience their own freedoms.

  33. BMS August 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    I was in the dentist’s waiting room yesterday and found that the only reasonably interesting magazine was Parents. (sorry, can’t read about golf without going cross-eyed with boredom) They have a column called ‘safety stories’ or something like that. One of those ‘Something horrible happened to my kid’ things. A woman’s 5 year old got her finger pinched in a bathroom door at a restaurant and ripped the tip of her finger off. Had to go to the hospital, yadda yadda. But the mother’s response was, “Now I never, ever let her go into a bathroom alone.”

    My response was, seriously? This was a random, one off event. She could have done it while you were in the bathroom just as easily. Pretty sure she won’t do it again. So your solution to a random accident is to stand over your kid forever while they pee, lest they catch their finger in a door again? That just seems utterly crazy to me.

    And that’s how I tend to respond to a lot of the busybodies. I look at them like they’re nuts. I restate their worries in such a way that I hope they are doubting their sanity, not mine. (You’re really worried about x? Really? Weird.) If it’s a close friend or relative I might discuss it with them more, but otherwise, I treat them like any other nutcase.

  34. Anonymous August 3, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    We’ve actually had The Bad Thing happen, as in some silly, paranoid person turned us in thinking we were neglectful (yet too strict) parents. The thing that got us through was our community of close friends and family—the people who were appalled and incensed for our sakes. That was maybe the most central thing—all that support.

    It’s important to note that NOTHING HAPPENED. We didn’t get in trouble. And the agency even apologized to us (more or less).

    HOWEVER, it was a traumatic experience and I understand why people are terrified of having it. In truth, it has slowed me down. I am less trusting of what I perceive to be people’s innate goodwill. Because sometimes it’s not there and then the parents get screwed.

    So it’s a mixed bag, see?

  35. Jennifer Colgan August 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Blame helps absolve people of their own fear. When something newsworthy and terrible happens to a child, the first thing you usually hear is what the parents could have done differently to prevent it. If we can identify what the parents did wrong, then we can avoid it happening to our own children. ‘This won’t happen to me, because I would NEVER allow MY child to…’ It’s a psychological safety net.

    I’m surrounded by blamers and worriers. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “But you’d never forgive yourself if…” It certainly makes parenting a lot harder knowing that my mistakes will be dissected and thrown back in my face if they affect my children the least bit adversely.

    My next worry: My 16-year-old daughter got her driver’s permit yesterday. So far two people have asked me “Are you going to let her drive?” Um…of COURSE. Why would I NOT? She has to learn, doesn’t she? “Well, yes, but it’s sooooo scary…” Of course it is. But I was allowed to drive when I got my permit. If not I’d still be bumming rides from my mother. Yet I’m supposed to think twice about allowing my daughter behind the wheel of a car now that the DMV has deemed her fit to operate a motor vehicle because it’s ‘soooo scary.’ My biggest fear is not that she might have a fender bender in my car, but the gnashing and wailing I’ll hear from people if she does because it will be my ‘fault’ for allowing her to do what she’s supposed to be doing and not somehow finding a way to avoid any possibility that she might have an accident.

  36. Tanya August 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    I tell them to read Free Range Kids – it changed my life and my kids! I talk to them about how much happier and independent my kids are – now that I stopped hovering over them. Also how much less stressed I am. Of course, I worry about my kids – but the stress levels have decreased tremendously. We talk about rules, where are they allowed to go in the neighborhood, and if they violate a rule they have to come inside. One of those rules is… do not go into a neighbor’s house without coming home and asking, do not leave the yard without telling me – my kids hate these rules but follow them and feel more independent.

  37. Kenny M Felder August 3, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    I want to echo the anonymous comment above: “For me its reminding myself how much they WILL lose if I don’t give them the opportunities to explore and grow.” It’s vital to avoid framing this as “safety vs danger” because who would choose danger over safety? It’s the tiny danger of being struck by lightning vs all the *huge* dangers of an oversheltered life.

    I would also add, read. Read Huck Finn and the American Girls and The Trumpet of the Swan and anything else you can get your hands on. They serve as constant reminders of real life. And hey, while you’re at it, read Lenore’s book. And give copies to your neighbors!

  38. Linda Wightman August 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    I may be duplicating because I don’t have time to read all the comments, but my own biggest aid in this matter is the risk/benefit analysis. And what economists call “opportunity cost.” It may be easy to see the risk of what might happen if you don’t over-protect your child, but it’s vital to consider the less obvious risks of what might happen if you don’t.

    I could never make the decisions for someone else, but I sometimes try to help them understand that they are making a choice when they do what society expects of them, and that they are not protecting their children from all dangers but are rather choosing to expose them other dangers in order to avoid something they think more intolerable. It can be a difficult choice, and good parents can come down on opposite sides of most issues.

    The root problem, it seems to me, is those who would enforce their own parenting decisions on others. I see it all the time, and not only on the free-range issue. Those who let their babies sleep on their stomachs because they find the developmental delays often associated with back-sleeping intolerable; those who let their children drink raw milk because they don’t want to deprive them of the health benefits; those who homeschool because they believe their children will get a better education; those who choose home births because they believe that in almost all cases that is safer for both the baby and the mother — in these examples and many more I see good parents choosing what they believe to be the very best for their children, and yet in the rare case when “something goes wrong,” they face not only the tragedy for their children and all the blame they heap on themselves, but instead of sympathy and help we heap on them censure and more blame.

    To be sure, things also go wrong when we make whatever happens to be the expected, recommended choices. And I don’t mean just in the more hidden ways — children grow up emotionally crippled, have developmental delays, develop allergies, lose the love of learning, and suffer from unnecessary and harmful birth interventions — but in obvious tragedies. Babies die in hospital births, children are kidnapped despite parental hovering, people die from listeria without ever taking a sip of raw milk, children fail in school.

    I can’t imagine that having “done everything right” is any comfort to a parent in the midst of tragedy. But we like to think so, and so we chose the way in which other people are not so likely to heap blame upon us.

    Helping someone make the difficult choice is risky. But that’s why I’m big on information, information, information, and helping them see that they are choosing even when they don’t think they are.

  39. gpo August 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    I think you try the approach of asking when will they let their child do such and such, i.e. walking to school alone? Say the child is 10 right now, will the parent say 11, 12 or 13 for walking to school alone? I assume they will give you an age at some point, so then ask them what will change when the child 12 and able to walk to school alone as opposed to being 11 and can’t walk to school.

    I think you should make them give you some reasoning.

  40. Elizabeth (Foodie, Formerly Fat) August 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    This is probably too experiential to be helpful, but I found that there were several experiences that I had when my daughter was an infant that helped me get over the idea of blame.

    1. When my daughter was about a year old she was sitting on my lap on the couch. We were playing and she was bouncing around laughing and having fun. She flailed unexpectedly and banged her face into the back of the couch. One of her teeth went right through her lip and she was bleeding profusely. It was terrifying.
    Lesson: Even sitting on my lap while playing sh!t can happen.

    2. At age three my daughter went to the dentist for the first time. There were holes in some of her teeth and we were sent to a specialist. I felt terrible that I had somehow been negligent in her oral hygiene and that she was going to have to have holes filled and have cavities all because I hadn’t been vigilant enough. Turns out it had nothing to do with oral hygiene. I had contracted strep throat while pregnant with her and had a high fever. Apparently, that impacted the development of her teeth while in the womb.
    Lesson: Even in the womb I can’t prevent all bad things from happening to her.

    Overall lesson: We CAN’T protect against everything. If we blame someone for what has happened to them then all we are really doing is trying to make the random acts of life appear to be the result of someone’s actions. Then we can think, well I would never do that so that can’t happen to me. Blame becomes a way for people to reassure themselves that bad things won’t happen to them. And it makes people who do have random bad stuff happen feel responsible.

  41. genie August 3, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    I just met a mom, 44 years old, with a 2 1/2 year old. I think that being older as a mom (I’m a bit older myself) makes you more paranoid because you worked so hard to get the baby in the first place. This particular lady though… she is a former cop, not being a cop now because she’s being a mommy. In the bounce house, where there is only one door in and out and every mom in there is keeping eyes out for all of the kids, this cop would get up to check on her kid so often that it was hard to talk to her. Most of us let them go until we hear them crying (and they usually come find us every 5 minutes or so anyways). I tried to tell this cop about the free range idea, but I got the same response from her that I got from a friends hubby who was a former assistant DA prosecutor – “you don’t know what I’ve seen.” I realize that I don’t know what they’ve seen… and I try to tell them about what they’re taking away in an effort to protect from the absurdly rare… but it never goes very well. In the end, the cop was so overwhelming that the other moms weren’t interested in her joining our stay at home mommy group… I feel so badly for her little girl…

  42. Lollipoplover August 3, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Personally, I treat “childhood exploration” as one of the basic fundamentals of raising a well-balanced child. Just as you would want a great coach for your child’s sports team (you know, one that emphasizes good sportsmanlike conduct and having fun), you are the coach for your own child, and you need coach them in small increments on being an independent, good citizen.

    When my kids asked to bike to school after their bus was cut (the just turned 9 and 7), we did our research. They googled “biking to school” and figured out that the biggest danger was being hit by a car. So they decided to ride on the sidewalks (and called our township to see if it was allowed- it is.) They did practice runs. Other kids joined in. I did it with them at first for guidance, but we also came to rely on walkie talkies, and they thought this was cool. They have houses along the route that we’ve identified to help if there’s an emergency (usually a busted chain or skinned knee.) Arrival and dismissal from school are so much more fun for the bikers and walkers. They sign themselves out, and go with their friends, no security detail invoved.
    I read somewhere that our brains have not adapted so well to modern technology. We still fear strangers more than cars, even though the statistics show otherwise. A fearful parent must then do their own rewiring.

  43. Daniel August 3, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    My counselor recommends that I say the following mantra to myself when I am feeling anxious about this topic or others:

    “unsure, unknown, out of my control”

    This helps to remind me that every day is full of uncertainty, and that we are not really in control of most of what happens to us. This in turn allows me to relinquish some of the alleged control that I am trying to hold on to and that is creating the anxiety in the first place.

  44. Becky August 3, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    I try to think of it this way: In the unlikely event something were to happen to my child then I will blame myself. It does not matter if I did everything imaginable to protect them, it does not matter if it was a totally random and unprotectable occurrence, it does not matter if they are struck by lightning on a completely cloudless day, I will blame myself. I will blame myself and never forgive myself and never be the same again. Yes, it’s a horrible situation to imagine. However, the question is, would I feel worse if it were a preventable accident? No, I could not possibly feel worse. Would I care what other parents thought of me? No, I won’t have time to think about them, I’ll be too busy thinking about my child. And in the end, I believe that peace will only come because I am able to remember them happy, and know that they lived life to the fullest before whatever became of them because I did not hide them away form the world. They experienced life, if not for as long as I would have wished.

  45. Sarah August 3, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    There are a few things that help me not care about what other people think about me.

    1. Not everyone will like me or my family, or my choices for my family, so I’m just going to do what I think is best with the info I have.

    2. I can find a study or a book or website or a support group that will support whatever decision I make. There’s so much information on every side of nearly every issue, that in the end, I’m going to go with my gut, and seek out the support of like-minded individuals.

    3. I learned somewhere along the way about “circles of control.” The first, smallest, circle (closest to you, as you’re in the middle of the circles) is the one in which you have direct influence. You can change your environment, decide what you want, etc. The second concentric circle out you have some, but not much, control over. This would relate to the people around you – you can try to influence them, but ultimately you’ll have only indirect influence on this circle. The third circle is the one over which you have least control (ie, none). You can’t control the weather, you can’t control what people on the other side of the world (or town!) are doing. You can’t control what that weirdo across the street does to be weird. So… you can worry about all three circles, but it’s a waste of time, because you only have control over your small circle. I choose to worry over that circle, and that circle alone.

  46. Paul D Baxter August 3, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    My suggestion for fearful parents: throw out your television and go outside more WITH your kids. Once they start doing that, they’ll start to feel more comfortable with their kids doing things outside by themselves.

  47. Kirsten August 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    All my life I’ve asked myself if I can live with the consequences. Yes, I will be devastated if something happens to my kids when I’ve let them do something on their own. Part of me will always carry some blame. I don’t worry too much about what other will say. I do worry more about these off-the-wall legal actions taken against parents. In that situation, now my family’s life is doubly destroyed.

    It’s a lot to consider, but I don’t like operating based on fear.

  48. Taradlion August 3, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

    I think explaining that free range is not the same as “feral” or “wild” is important. The distinction between letting children explore and handel situations on their own (with preparation) and “forcing children to grow up to fast”. Also not underestimating kids abilities or over estimating risks.

    I commented once on internal vs external risk reduction. Some external risk reducers make sense (car seat, bike helmets, life jackets while boating) in that these things reduce risk without restricting kids from developing actual skills that ultimately will make them more safe. Internal risk reduction (learning to swim, cross the street, how to navigate their neighborhood) only comes from experiences and ultimately makes kids more safe. Confidence and competence goes a long way.

    To make an analogy, you can’t actually learn to swim wearing floaties, you can’t learn to ride a bike if the training wheels are left on forever. Nothing will magically change one day so that you know how to swim or ride a bike. Usually it takes parental involvement (or instructor/adult/ maybe even another kid teaching) at first to learn the skills, but at some point, you have to be let go.

    In my interpretation, true Free Range parenting is not about sink or swim (or pedal fast and balance or fall) it is about facilitating development and knowing when to let go… realizing if you don’t let go, you are not just holding on, but holding BACK your children.

  49. Cara August 3, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    My recommendation is to turn the guilt around. “I know that you’re afraid of what might happen, and that you’ll feel awful if it does, but think about your son/daughter. He/she deserves to explore and become independent and grow up. You’re doing your child a disservice if you never let them gain their own independence.”

  50. Heather Fitzgerald August 3, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    I think others have made more or less the same point, but we’ve found it helpful to try to build a community of free-rangers. There’s the whole strength in numbers thing, but it also is a lot more fun for my 9-year-old to have people to play with. Roaming the neighbourhood by herself while everyone else is locked away in daycare or day camps is not particularly dangerous, but it’s also not particularly fun. So for us, it’s finding the other families that think like we do and want their children to stretch their wings. Yesterday my daughter spent the day roaming the street with her best friend–and this, on the very downtown Toronto street where there was a stabbing last Friday (the first violent crime in the area for two decades). Would I have let her go on her own? Maybe not: it’s hard to suppress the fear thing when the bloodstains are still visible on the sidewalk. But since her friend was allowed out, I decided that I’d be okay with it too. And they had a great day making crafts, building a teepee, etc. I’m grateful that I could give her that day in spite of my own fears.

  51. EricS August 3, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    When this conversation comes up, I usually get them to pull themselves from the situation and assess it in a logical point of view. I throw in common facts vs worse case scenarios. ie. Crime is down. ANYTHING can happen, standing there talking a space debris can come crashing down on us. Do we look up constantly? Then I ask them how they grew up. Most often they say they grew up pretty much FR. It’s basically, getting them to see the reality of things, and having them answer their own questions, and confronting their own fears. A lot of times, their realization does empower them, and gives them another option other than living in constant fear. I also throw in the fact that their fearful state stresses them out (which they don’t deny), and that stress affects their physical and mental well-being. That if they get sick, they can’t help their children. If they are frazzled, they can’t make the right decisions. And the thing that hits home the most, is when they realize that their actions DOES affect their children, and how they will grow up. “In trying to help your child in this condition, you are actually doing more harm in the long run.”

    They don’t need to change over night, but as long as it gets them thinking. Eventually, they do start to loosen the reigns. So long as another heli-parent doesn’t corrupting them again.

  52. CW August 3, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    It really comes down to the blame game, doesn’t it? We tend to fear the things that society will blame us for – not the things that are truly dangerous. Society seems to “get it” that if a child gets hurt in a car crash, it’s not necessarily anybody’s fault. Nobody is going to call CPS on a parent for letting their child ride in a car, even if that poses much more risk than, say, letting them walk to the corner store alone.

    Like somebody above said, if we could answer this question, the whole issue would be solved.

    I think strength of conviction is the first step. Read the book, get the facts and arm yourself with a rational defense of your actions. Beyond that, I think building community can also help tremendously. If you feel like a maverick, going it alone, it’s going to be much harder, but if you know you have at least a friend or who who will back you up, then suddenly you’re not quite so ‘out there’ any more.

  53. pentamom August 3, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    “My recommendation is to turn the guilt around. “I know that you’re afraid of what might happen, and that you’ll feel awful if it does, but think about your son/daughter. He/she deserves to explore and become independent and grow up. You’re doing your child a disservice if you never let them gain their own independence.”

    Cara, I agree with the thinking you’re expressing here, but there ARE people who will simply answer something like, “NOTHING is worth the risk of something terrible happening to my child. A dependent child is still alive”, or things to that effect.

    In severe cases like this, maybe what we need to do is concoct some “nightmare scenarios” of our own about incompetent adults. “What if your kid never learns enough independence to be able to find a job and live on his own?” Stuff like that. With the really hard cases, they tend to compare someone being slightly inept (best possible outcome of overprotection) vs. horrific abduction related death (worst possible alleged outcome of Free Range.) So you might need to up the ante from “not letting them gain independence” to “not being able to function as adults.”

  54. Trish August 3, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    What helps me the most is to remember my end goal – I want my kids to be confident, adventurous, intelligent, mature, contributors to society, and they will not get there if I am hovering and talking about danger.

  55. curiositycat August 3, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    Probably the wisest thing I’ve heard in a long time: “You can’t treat anxiety in the negative.” With that one phrase, I’ve succeeded in overcoming a fear of flying and heights and reduced my formerly chronic anxiety to a mere occasional nuisance.

    I do believe the same principle can be applied here. When we focus on the negatives–even in order to deny the negatives–we feed our own anxieties. We can tell ourselves all day that “nothing bad will happen,” or “the chances of something happening are minuscule,” or “people used to do this all the time without bad things happening,” or “it’s still less dangerous than driving in the car,” but it won’t stop the anxiety.

    The reason for that lies in the seat of our emotions, the primitive part of our brain responsible for triggering the chemicals that cause sensations of anxiety and panic. Some call it the “lizard brain” because it evolved long before we were mammals. In short, the lizard brain developed long before language and is simply incapable of registering the word “no.”

    When you say “nothing bad will happen,” your lizard brain hears only “bad! happen!” and sends out appropriate signals to the rest of your body.

    This is also why, by the way, you can’t tell a 2-year-old “no” and expect her to obey reliably–a positive command followed by distraction works much better.

    Which, it turns out, is also exactly what you need to do for your lizard brain. Instead of focusing on what will *not* happen, focus on what *is* happening and the happy outcome you expect. Instead of, “Oh, she’ll be fine at the park alone, stranger kidnappings are incredibly rare,” say to yourself, “Wow, my daughter is developing independence! And maturity! Think of the fun she’s having with her friends!” Then imagine the smile on her face, the ruddiness in her cheeks as she walks back in the door, the big hug you’ll wrap her in.

    Then distract yourself with something else for a while. When those scary anxious thoughts recur (and they will), remind yourself that you’ve already reasoned out why they are invalid, and then move immediately on to the positive affirming images, and then to your distraction.

    As for the reality of the risk, it is absolutely unquestionably a real risk. But then, so is everything else we do in life. And in this case, the ruddy cheeks, healthy bones, awakened curiosity, self-reliance and responsibility, and other many many benefits of the free range lifestyle are every bit as worthy of the tiny risk as is getting in the car to go to the library.

  56. inna August 3, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    I think that fear of blame especially fear of facing actual criminal charges is serious. I think that this fear can me mitigated and controlled by knowing what to do in situation like this. It’s important to know where and how to lawyer up. And it would be comforting to know that there are communities, online or otherwise, one can get support on the matter.
    So when arguing the blame don’t just dismiss it because you simply can’t given those horrible stories about prosecuted parents posted here. Instead it would be nice to point out that one is not alone and won’t be alone if, god forbid, is faced with criminal charges. You can then provide people with information about lawyers that specialize in such cases, websites with legal information, support groups etc. You can back it up by some success stories of parents fighting off charges (are there any?).
    I think it even would be a good idea to have a section of your website dedicated to collecting and publishing such information, sort of 911 for when things go south.

  57. Jenne August 3, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    I have a real nightmare scenario (not, thankfully, me) that I share. When I was in graduate school at University in 1991, a first year student went to a bar with friends in her first week of classes. She was afraid to walk home alone, so she accepted the offer of two football players (who she had just met) to walk her home. They walked her back to her dorm and raped her. The then Chancellor of the University blamed it on her going (illegally) to a bar (he was kicked out not long after) — but I still think she just didn’t have any idea how to handle herself without her parents around.

    So, the objective is to turn out 18 year olds who know how to handle themselves when they don’t have supervision. How, I ask my friends, do we get there? At what age do we expect this child to be able to do X with some safety?

    My experience, of co-parenting a young person who wasn’t my biological child, is that if you want to help a friend be more relaxed about letting their kids be more independent, you have to keep up gentle reassurance– and be prepared for good-natured ribbing on your stand.

  58. Cheryl W August 3, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    I think this applies here:

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference.

    The key part is the wisdom – wisdom to know when to let others around us grow and learn on their own, to not interfere with everything. Part of being a parent is that we cannot change the fact that our kids WILL grow up, despite all that we may do, and we do need the courage to LET them grow up, to be self reliant and confident adults.

    And, quiet honestly, as others have said, one of the things that we can never change is how others think about us. But we can change how we react to those people who think negatively of us – we can chose to ignore it, or we can let it paralyze us. The choice is ours, and I think part of being Free Range is to help our kids learn that they don’t have to do what everyone else thinks is cool, right or proper. Because it isn’t always cool, right or proper just because of everyone else. I am sure we can all think of examples of when following the crowd doesn’t work.

  59. pentamom August 3, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    “You can then provide people with information about lawyers that specialize in such cases, websites with legal information, support groups etc. ”

    Lenore or someone else interested and influential ought to look into starting something along the lines of Home School Legal Defense Association, for Free Rangers — a non-profit network of lawyers interested and willing to defend parents and challenge laws infringing on the right to raise children as we see fit.

  60. DINK August 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    If you are having your “One Second” discussion with someone who is the mathematical sort, you could ask them to weigh the one in a million chance that they will not be together with Timmy when (insert disaster strikes: tornado, earthquake, broken bone, dangerous criminal) against the very likely possibility of instilling in their child a feeling of dependence and fearfulness that may prevent their child from attempting new and scary things such as: moving out of the house, having healthy relationships, attempting a post high school certificate or degree, learning to drive a car…

    If they aren’t the mathematical sort, then my question would be: As a non-superhero, what is your plan to prevent (tornado, earthquake, broken bone, dangerous criminal) from happening?

    All of us know one person who lives with their parents, or doesn’t drive, or someone who just has a very small world which they are afraid to venture out from… How do you suppose that happens to a person?

    And bravo to Liz who posted today at 11:19 and Liz S. at 11:22, I agree with both of them.

  61. Corey August 4, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    I think they key to this is to appeal to a mother or father’s fears, the things that stiffen their backbones and make them feel ready to take risks. I want you to visualize that father at the park that gets belligerent and borderline violent about someone taking pictures of his kids, or the mother that would be willing to fight and die rather than let someone run off with her child. Parents have these fantasies and would be willing to die to protect their children, right?

    OK… so… let’s imagine that every night, while you’re asleep, a government funded agent sneaks into your child’s bedroom and uses a little box to irradiate them. Just a bit. The net result over 18 years is that the child has a little lower IQ and is more likely to be obese. It also makes the child a lot less confident in general as a young adult or college student.

    Now… how many parents would just put up with that? Wouldn’t every father you know claim to be ready to stay up all night and kill that agent if he came into their house? Damn the consequences, right? No well in hell I’m letting someone hurt my kid, right? Wouldn’t every mother be willing to die fighting that man off to keep him away from her child? Wouldn’t she rather die than let anyone harm her?

    Now… imagine the rest of society has convinced itself that these agents and their visits are necessary. That it’s just GOT to be done. Every child. That’s just how it is. It doesn’t matter how asinine this idea is, every parent must conform. If you fight off the agent and don’t let him reach your child they condemn you. Police surround your house, willing to shoot you to ensure that this agent can get to your child and do his work. Eventually they take the kid away from you to make sure they’re irradiated like everyone else.

    I would be willing to bet, as contrived as this is, that every SINGLE MOTHER and FATHER YOU KNOW would claim they’d fight to the death to stop that agent from reaching their child. They’d rather die than let someone take their kids and do this to them. It’s precisely the kind of fear that is so strong in the deep dark of night. The kind that makes men want to fight for their families. The kind that makes (I cringe to use this phrase) “mama grizzlies”.

    But… isn’t that exactly what TV, and X-box, and being driven to school, and never playing outside or walking to the store alone is? Isn’t it the way that society at large sneaks into our children’s lives and saps a bit of their IQ? Makes them obese? Leaves them unprepared for college and adult life? Isn’t calling the school to fight your teenager’s battles over essay grades just ‘what is done’ as stupid as it really seems when you think about it? Aren’t the police agents of society forcing us to dumb down our children?

    The answer is YES, that is EXACTLY what this imaginary agent of our society is doing. The agent isn’t even imaginary, he’s REAL. Why are all those parents more afraid of this agent than they are brave to fight him off and protect their children?

    I personally don’t give a rat’s ass what other parents think of me, nor the cops, nor the child protection services. I am willing to fight for the sake of my child’s future. And so should you be.

  62. thinkbannedthoughts August 4, 2011 at 12:07 am #

    The short answer, is by doing what you are doing – to help stop this insanity of finger pointing and victim blaming, and by encouraging all of us to stand with you.
    The longer answer –

    Parenting is hard enough without it being a 24-7-365 job. I mean, are we really not allowed to nap when they nap? Or leave them with baby sitters, ever? Or even think about taking a deep breath?

    It’s up to us to push back against these unreasonable and impossible expectations. You’ve started the movement, it’s up to us to carry to momentum onward and upward.

    Side note – all our legislators are heading to their home districts for a “break”. Attend some townhall meetings, make some appointments, let them know we want our children’s freedom back.

  63. babs August 4, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    It is hard but not impossible. My personal fear (if you want to call it that) is having to be ratted out by someone for not being a “responsible” parent, even if something bad is not happening by allowing my child to do something on her own. Almost everyone I know is a Nervous Nellie and is forever serving up scare statistics, or saying how “the world is a much more dangerous place now than it was then”. To which I say “nonsense,” but people must think I don’t care or watch the news (no to the former and latter).

    And now my daughter is in a fearful phase — she is almost 8 and despite my attempts to give her some bigger degrees of independence, she still wants me to baby her, or has very fanciful fears, it seems. I’ve tried to do things like leave her home for 10 minutes while running an errand locally WITHOUT her (reassuring her that I’m only a phone call away — she knows my cell number by heart). She is convinced that there will be “bad guys” breaking in the house. And I have no idea how that got started, since neither my husband nor I prattle on about “stranger danger” or anything like that.

    Even worse is when I allow her to stay in the toy section of a store while I’m a few aisles over doing something, for about 5 or so minutes, then she panics about my not being there and has me paged over the store intercom by an employee. Talk about embarrassment (but at least she knows what to do).

  64. RobynHeud August 4, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    All I can think about is the boy who died recently from the blood clot because he had been playing video games for so long. Sadly, his was not the only case. If you can’t stop death in your own house, especially while giving your kids “safe” things to do, where can you stop it? The best thing we can do for our kids is to give them the tools they need to make healthy decisions for themselves, even if that means kicking them outside or giving them responsibilities and consequences.

  65. Brian August 4, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    What kind of parent would be so selfish that they would put “what other people will think” or fear of how “they will feel guilty” above what their child needs to grow and flourish?

    One of the toughest things you can be asked to do as a parent is to take some risks yourself including letting your children have some independence. When you do, you as a parent assume the potential for criticism, sadness, legal issues, etc. But doing so gives your child the gift of learning to be independent, free thinking, mature, etc.

    People always say “I would do anything for my kids.” This is one time when you can do so in a meaningful way.

  66. RobynHeud August 4, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    Here’s the link for the news article:

  67. Jynet August 4, 2011 at 2:06 am #

    SKL, on August 3, 2011 at 11:41 said:
    7) What do you want your child to be able to accomplish independently when he’s 18? He’s __% of the way to 18. Is he on track?


    I have been saying exactly this to people for almost 10 year now, and it really does work.

    I usually make it more exact by adding details:

    “When my daughter is 18 she is planning to fly to Europe – hey didn’t you do that when you were that age? I did! – and stay in hostels… We’ve been learning about taking buses, and trains and flying and staying in hostels since she was 11 to help her get ready for that. Now with only a year left I figure if she doesn’t have the skills to do ___ yet, it is better that we find out at home than when she is 4000km away!”

    It helps people to put it in terms of a goal, and small steps leading up to that goal.

  68. Shelley August 4, 2011 at 2:18 am #

    Also, let yourself be nervous, but do it anyway. Recently my 10 and 14 year old daughters rode a public bus from our small suburban town to a library and shopping center two towns away. (Middle class suburbanites NEVER ride buses where we live.) The older one had made the trip before with an older friend, and they had a cell phone with them, but still, it was the farthest we’ve ever let them go on their own. My husband said, “Should we be worried?” And I felt so relieved to have permission to feel the way I felt. So we agreed to be worried, and to let them go. Of course it was fine.

  69. Donna August 4, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    I don’t think that you can combat the fear that you will be blamed if something happens to your child because the fact of the matter is that you WILL be blamed. If the masses can find any inkling of something off to blame on you, they will. It makes them feel less vulnerable in that they can say to themselves “This won’t happen to me because I would never do X.”

    I know that if something happens to my daughter while free ranging (or asleep in her own bed), I will be blamed to a certain extent in the press and community, hopefully not by law enforcement. But the odds of something horrible happening are very small. If the worst was to happen, I don’t think anything that anyone could say about me could possibly even come close to the pain of losing my child so I probably won’t care at the time.

  70. Jynet August 4, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    I agree Donna.

    There was a random driveby shooting not far from here not long ago. It was a young boy (5yo?) and he was shot while asleep in his bed.

    The sad thing is that a few years ago the same thing happened not far from where this shooting happened. That time it was a young girl (3yo?).

    So of course this time it was “predictable” that something like that could happen, and people made comments about how the parents shouldn’t have been living there or shouldn’t have had the child’s bedroom on that side of the house, etc. etc.. But really what could the parents do? You can’t predict a RANDOM act!

  71. Uly August 4, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    Maybe the parents shouldn’t be living in that neighborhood, but doesn’t it occur to the naysayers that they already know that and probably would move if they could? (But I know, I know, poor people shouldn’t have kids.)

  72. Lollipoplover August 4, 2011 at 3:43 am #

    Cable shows that beg parents to “never taking your eyes off your kids” are only promoting crystal meth usage because unless you don’t sleep, this is impossible. It will also make you miserable and iritated and lead you to unemployment because you will be so unpleasant to be around, that no one will hire you.

  73. boyzndogz August 4, 2011 at 4:06 am #

    I have a different perspective here; my 11yo son has a brain tumor. It is likely he won’t make it to or very far into adulthood. What would you do differently raising your child if you knew they only had a year to live? five years? Those are the questions I ask of parents who think danger lurks around every corner every second of every day.

    Yes, when you first find out there is panic. You want to hold everyone close, never let go. Then you decide that is not living. Living is getting out and experiencing life, that is what it is all about…. experiences.

    The blame from others, bah. That can be brushed off. How would you feel if you twaddled your child’s last days or years away in the name of protecting them? Blame, you’d blame yourself for not enjoying life more. You’d blame yourself for not making memories. That type of blame doesn’t go away.

    We know we have limited time and we make the most of it. Really nobody knows how much time anyone has. Make the most of right now, that is all we have. “Live life like you’re dying” comes to mind.

  74. JMS August 4, 2011 at 4:28 am #

    Another problem is that we keep hearing horror stories about CPS and other such services taking children from a perfectly good home, often because they’ve been tattled on by busybodies. Like the grandfather who had the cops called on him for taking pictures of his grandson in the park. These stories hit the news every week, at least.

    I was in a discussion with another mom when I said something about returning the shopping cart to the corral after I’d buckled the kids into their seats. She said, “Aren’t you afraid someone will call CPS on you for that?” I was dumbfounded. First, it had never occurred to me that someone would, but secondly, the kids are safer there for the 30 seconds it takes to return the cart than if I were dragging them across the lot (where the cars are actually driving). I had the keys with me, and the kids were buckled, and it’s not like I was even running into the store for an item. The corral is at most 4 spaces down.

    Last week or so someone mentioned that our problem is not so much the rising crime rate (which isn’t true anyway) but the declining community and I couldn’t agree more! We don’t know our neighbors and who’s safe and who will help us out when the kids need it. My son is 6 and I’m prepping him to start going to park alone or riding his bike around the block, and as I’m doing it, I’m realizing more and more than I’ve GOT to get to know my neighbors. So that he is recognizeable, so he has friends to play with, so that he is safe. He’s more vulnerable (and to be honest, bored) alone. Plus I’m tired of setting up playdates. Goodness, I just can’t sit on that park bench for too much longer.

  75. Jen August 4, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    I think the best thing you can do is to be a good example. Preaching to people rarely makes them change their minds, no matter how right you are.

    I have a couple friends with kids similar in age to my own (pre-adolescent/ early teen) who are constantly afraid for their children’s safety. So I talk to them about what my kids are doing (for example, taking the city bus around town, or going to the mall by themselves), how we prepare for them to do it safely, and why we are doing it. And verbalizing the fact that sometimes, we get worried too, but we feel the fear, and do it anyway. Not in a preachy way, but in a “sharing about my family” way. I point out when their kids show their maturity and ability to handle situations.

    They know me, and know I care about my kids – I am not an irresponsible parent putting my kids in danger. My kids’ bio-father held them hostage from me years ago, and regularly threatened to kidnap them, and we have hidden from him for the past 6 years – we have concrete things to be afraid of, known dangers – but I still think it is important for my kids to be independent, and we make sure they have the necessary tools to keep themselves safe.

    I have seen my friends really come around, and their families are reaping the benefits. Now, they sometimes talk to me about things their kids want to do that make them anxious and we have a logical talk about it, rather than saying no purely based on fear. I still get the “it’s different because your kids are boys” (they both have girls) line a lot, but I’m working on it.

  76. JB August 4, 2011 at 5:38 am #

    Cultures are so different on these issues. And (clearly, from the stories so many of us tell of our childhoods), cultures change over time. So let’s hope they can change back! I spend a fair amount of time in a rural village where the kids (and especially the boys aged 7-14, but the girls too) run totally wild in the summer time. They run in packs, so they’re not alone. They ride their bikes on the County highway and the back roads. They swim in a creek. They build tree houses. God knows what else. There’s an additional reason to be OK with this: there is not much to do other than run around outside in this tiny town; if they were’nt doing that they’d be playing video games or watching TV all the time. In this environment, anyone who complained about an unsupervised kid outdoors would be considered a crank. The local CPS people have far worse things to worry about — kids being raised in meth labs, kids with no food, kids who have never seen a dentist.

  77. Pamela August 4, 2011 at 5:45 am #

    AHHH… the old blame game something parents have been doing since the beginning of time WHY?? Well it could not be possible that Jr.(my kids) were rough housing, playing dodge ball, checking in hockey ect that got them hurt it was mom or dads for giving them the opportunity to be in that position to have a choice to play or sit. Life happens belive it or not !!! Things do not have to have a blame Sh*t happens all around us everyday to good and bad people alike living in constent fear (mom I hope YOU are reading this) of the sky falling on our children. I was and still am a bit of a wild child so when my kids are out with friends, playing sports or driving out of the driveway I take a deep breath say have fun, not ( WATCH OUT or BE VERY CAREFUL) are you still reading mom…. because everytime I heard those word I always pushed the limits…. all that said its a no fault insurence policy that gets us thru..

  78. Kate August 4, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    Personally, I understand the fear. When my son was four years old, he woke up at 3 in the morning and decided to go to the park. When we woke up several hours later, he was gone. it was terrifying. Fortunately, someone who lived near the park had found him playing outside in the cold in his pajamas and taken him inside for cookies and to track down his parents. Unfortunately, he had a speech impediment that made in impossible to pronounce our last name so there was quite a bit of confusion.

    We called the police and were reunited with him within an hour. I then went through six months of hell where CPS and almost everyone who lived in my town called me a POS parent. The police were on my side and by using logic and common sense realized that there wasn’t a good way to prevent this. We lived on a military base and the doors were required to be easily opened from the inside just like a hotel room. That was because someone left a young child home alone a few decades earlier and the child had died because he could not get out when a fire started. We actually had the knob covers on the doors to keep him in and we were reamed out and threatened with fines during a fire inspection just one week earlier. So, the police and the base commander were wonderful and worked with us to actually change the ordinance so this wouldn’t happen again.

    Everybody else shunned me. I was treated like dirt. A CPS worker stood in my house and literally told me that good mothers do not sleep. She said I needed to be awake and watching my son 24 hours a day or he would be removed from the home. She said this in front of a shocked detective who actually told her off and explained that human beings require sleep and her orders were in no way reasonable or even possible. She then said that my husband and I needed to sleep in shifts. I also was not to use the bathroom or shower unless I brought my son into the room with me. She then tore through my house and lectured me for having dirty dishes stacked INSIDE my dishwasher and dirty clothes INSIDE a clothes hamper.

    When it was all said and done, the detective helped me file a complaint about the worker but it didn’t seem to do any good. I still had to deal with her for months. At one point, she tried to say my child seemed abused because he didn’t want the lousy hand sewn felt teddy bear she brought him. I pointed out that he didn’t want her shitty, ugly, second hand bear because he had a whole room full of toys that were actually nice. She ignored everything I said to her, everything the police said to her and everything the base commander said to her.

    During her last visit, she said she was signing me off because I had finally gotten the little door knob covers to keep my son in and then went on a bitch rant about how it was “about time”. I completely lost it. I screamed at her that we had the covers before but the base police and fire departments had demanded we remove them one week before the incident. I reminded her for the 100th time that we had petitioned the base and held town hall meetings to change this rule AND I also reminded her that these knob covers had been firmly in place for her last FOUR visits.

    It was hell. Absolute hell. I completely understand why people are afraid. Even the police told this woman she was out of line but it made no difference. It doesn’t matter what kind of parent you are, one power tripping CPS jerk can cause some serious damage to your family.

  79. Kate August 4, 2011 at 6:00 am #

    Shoot, I just realized I didn’t offer any helpful suggestions. I was terrified for a good four years after that incident. I didn’t want to let him go anywhere because I was literally afraid that some agency would take him away because I didn’t clean the house well enough or because he fell down at school and got a bloody lip. That woman terrorized me with constant threats of foster care and it had a big impact.

    The only thing that really helped was realizing my son was old enough to speak up for himself. A few years ago, I enrolled him in a gymnastics class so I could get an hour to myself 3 times a week. (Going crazy for a helicopter parent, I know.)

    Every other parent with a kid in the class stayed for the entire hour. I would drop him off, tell him to have fun and hit the gym to enjoy my me time. Well, I started getting dirty looks from the other parents when I would drop him off or pick him up. Eventually, the looks elevated to snide comments mumbled under their breath. Finally, one of them confronted me for being a bad mother who didn’t take any interest in her son. (Keep in mind, I was a full time helicopter mom for 9 years at this point. I was dang tired and all I wanted was three bloody hours a week to myself.)

    While I was spooling up to give her a piece of my mind, my son said, “Don’t you talk to my mom like that you ugly, horrible person! She’s a great mom and way better than you could ever be. Maybe if you had a hobby you wouldn’t be so mean and ugly!”

    That’s what finally made me stop worrying. My kid knows I love him and he isn’t afraid to stick up for me if some crazy person tries to interfere with our family.

  80. nobody@nowhere August 4, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    Maybe this video would help

  81. Cheryl W August 4, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    Poptart kitty! My kids love it! (However, I think that tune will be going through my head for quite a while….)

    Kate, I would have loved to have seen the expression on that other mom’s face!

  82. Carrie August 4, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    One day we were at a park. The kids were climbing up and over this tree that was growing low and parallel to the ground. And older couple walked by and said in a very loud whisper “Those kids could fall off and break their arms. They shouldn’t be there”. And I answered “yes they certainly could break their arms. But how will they know their limits if they don’t fail? How will they learn balance if they don’t fall? How can they have fun?”. Things are risky. But I’d risk a broken arm any day over telling my kids they have to sit still on the blanket in a park…

  83. Mel August 4, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    I have been reading these responses while my 7-year-old has been preparing dinner for himself and younger sister. Last night I had a last-straw moment where I told them I wouldn’t tolerate their complaints about my cooking any longer and that they could make their own dinner, thank you very much (not my finest moment, I admit). For the last thirty minutes my son rattled around the kitchen, discovering where I keep things and composing as balanced a meal as he could manage without actually turning on the stove or oven. Sure, dinner basically amounts to a peanut butter sandwich and cucumbers, but he did it all by himself and has a sense of accomplishment for having completed the task.

    The lesson I am taking away from this, echoed in some of the posts I’ve seen above: Take baby steps. Start small and dole out ever-bigger doses of responsibility. This not only benefits my son (and later, my daughter), but, perhaps more importantly, allows ME an increasing comfort and gets me used to the idea that with this approach, he can grow into a competent human.

    Then when the busybodies weigh in, you can deflect their criticisms with confidence.

  84. Cheryl W August 4, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    Mel, you should read “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” to your kids. They (and you) will see that you are not the first parent to ever do what you did. It was a great learning experience for the kids in the book, just like for yours!

    And besides, I have too many men in my family (not my husband, thank goodness,) who think that only women can cook, wash dishes, do laundry or clean. It really gets on my nerves, and I am glad that you are helping your son to not be helpless like some in my family!

  85. Kelly August 4, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    I could have written this post/query a couple years ago. Some days it still rattles me, the fear-mongering and those who are quick to blame parents/carers (usually mothers). But I’ve found many people in real life aren’t nearly as unapproachable on the subject as I used to think.

    Ultimately, what has helped me is to find a few people who support me in my judgment and practices as a parent. THOSE are the people I talk with to get advice, or to vent to, or to relate with.

    I don’t argue with people if I’m feeling upset or vulnerable. I calm myself, listen to the other party with empathy as best I can, and say, “Lots of people feel/think that way.” I acknowledge their reality (the world is a scary place, kids can’t handle freedom nor responsibility, etc etc, whatever it is).

    If I’m able to converse in a non-heated, non-angry/judgmental or soapboxy way, I feel free to cite statistics or talk about the implications of the child-unfriendly policies out there. The topic is an important one.

  86. Poppy August 4, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    I just wanted to say WOW… what an awesome group of comments today! I want to print this page and keep it close, using it to remind myself when necessary of just why I believe what I do about this issue. And, of course, using it to quote from when confronted with the busybodies and worrywarts. I may slide a copy secretly into my paranoid sister’s purse one of these days. If only I could plant a seed in her thoughts for the sake of her four children.

    Corey: great scenario… loved it! And thank you to so many others, too numerous to mention, who phrased things with such impact.

  87. mighthavejoy August 4, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    One of the biggest helps is developing a community around my children and myself as a parent. Getting to know neighbors, being involved in school, church, and community activities, spending time outside myself and talking with other parents about parenting goals, philosophies, and concerns.

    Last week, it paid off. In the space of two days, My kids had two free-range incidents at the park, both involving mothers I didn’t know overreacting to normal kid behavior, scaring the children, and getting in my face. I kept my cool but held my ground and (thanks to this site) tactfully questioned their assumptions.

    Afterward, some other park “regulars” came by to reassure me that the other mothers’ complaints were unfounded (“She’s crazy.”) and that of course we all watch out for each others’ kids, and that what the kids were doing was fine.

    I also befriend other moms and support their free-range efforts. I tell people that it’s important to me to allow my children to make little choices with little consequences when they’re little people so that they know how to wisely make big choices with big consequences when they’re big people.

    The other thing that helps is now, after nearly 10 years of parenting, I can see the fruits of my labors in cheerful, friendly, polite, creative, intelligent, self-sufficient children. I can finally step back every now and then and say, “Yeah, I’m a pretty good parent after all.”

  88. Marina Sbrochi August 4, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    I still love a logical stance. I think getting involved in your community is a great idea. Know your neighbors. Talk to them.

    But some advice I read that really hit home for me was — if you don’t allow your children the ability to make decisions when the consequences are low (say opting to not wear a coat when it’s cold – and what’s the worst that will happen – he’ll be cold! and then learning the lesson that if Mom says it’s cold you might want to take a coat) If you don’t let children learn to make decisions ON THEIR OWN, they will inevitably make bad decisions later.

    This I know is true. I grew up not allowed to do anything. Every decision was controlled for me. So what did I do as soon as hit my teenage years and could get out of the house? You guessed it! Trouble, trouble, trouble. Why? Because I just wanted to BE IN CHARGE of something myself. I wanted to make my own decisions because I was never allowed to make any.

    And that — scares me! So you can bet, my children are free range!

    They go to a Montessori School — which is quite the free range philosophy. Three year olds walk together to the office. To the motor development lab. This is common. You then realize quickly how smart and how much these children are capable of.

    So I would advise the nervous parent to start small. Let your child walk 5 doors down to the neighbors and have him call you when he gets there. Then give him a time to come home and have him call you when he leaves. But DO NOT go out front for him. Let him walk and come home by himself.

    Then build up to bigger things. Empower your child to be capable! You will be impressed at the smart cookie you have. And of course you should still inform him about things that can go wrong and give him the tools to handle those things. Just as you would tell your children anything you want them to learn. Just don’t freak him out when he is walking out the door with your fears!

    So, like you, I still believe in cold, hard facts. I could get hit crossing the street tomorrow. But odds are — I won’t!

  89. Melissa August 4, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Start small would be my advice. My girls started by going to the park on the corner for 10 minutes with a phone. Now they can catch buses to dance camp, go to the movies, walk to the library etc alone.

    Success breeds confidence. The more you do the ( ridiculously ) small stuff, the more you feel OK about doing something slightly more “risky” for slightly longer. You sometimes have to do the small things over and over to desensitise yourself to the fear.

    Rather than try to rationalise away the fear, I found this approach – a desensitisation one – more effective.

    Not only does it help you get used to freerange, it helps your friends and family get used to it – your community. I would hope that slowly normalising independence in children would make blame a less likely outcome.

    Flexibility is also good. Maybe you are too anxious to let your kid go to the park themselves. But maybe you can cope with your kid going to the park with a friend by themselves.

    Maybe you can’t be brave enough to send them out without a phone. So what ? Send them with a phone. It’s more important to let them do what they need to do to grow than it is to do it perfectly. Imo.

  90. Heather August 4, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    What helps me is knowing it’s my job to raise a child that will become a capable adult. I *might* be unjustifiably blamed if tragedy happens. I *will* be rightly to blame if my child grows up incapable of navigating the world on his own.

  91. Toni August 4, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Here’s my problem. I was a hovering, helicopter mom for far too long, and now that I see the error of my ways, I’m afraid I’ve done so much damage, it can’t be reversed.

    How do I now get my kids – teens, age 14 & 16, who are homebodies and never even ASK to do anything on their own — to take steps toward independence? I know it’s my fault that they are so cautious, insecure and dependent, but now that I WANT them to break free a little, they won’t (can’t, I guess).

    HOW does one begin to turn things around, even at this late stage? Please don’t write comments about how it’s too late, or that I have to reap what I’ve sown; I don’t need a lecture, I need advice and encouragement. Thanks.

  92. Marina Sbrochi August 4, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    Hello Toni,

    What are their interests? Certainly they like something other than TV and home stuff? Perhaps you could reward them with something they like. Maybe they want to see a movie — depending on where you live, maybe you could say, I’ll drop you off and pick you up later. Maybe give them time and money to eat there too by themselves.

    Can you encourage them to organize something? A party with their friends? A gathering? Something where they could take charge. Even if the event takes place at your house. Let them set up all the details, prepare the food and you and your husband take a backseat while they have fun.

    Just be encouraging as much as you can.

    Also, if you tend to do too many things for them (laundry, make dinner) STOP. Maybe say, new rule. Thursdays are kids make dinner night! Have them plan and make dinner. Teach them to do their own laundry if they don’t already.

    Good luck!

  93. SgtMom August 4, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    It used to take my breath away seeing my daughter’s classmate out jogging at dusk, and after dark. This was as a FIRST grader! I’d worry for her and think disapprovingly of her mother. She was very small for her age, and it was shocking to see her nightly, without fail, those skinny little legs pumping and her blonde pony tail switching back and forth.

    Her mother was a teacher, and I liked and respected her otherwise – I never said or indicated my opnion…but I thought she was NUTS to allow her daughter to do that. I was always dreading that something bad might happen to her one night.

    She got a lot of praise and attention for running in big name marathons – Boston, the Marine Corp Marathon in D.C, or the Bolder Boulder.

    Deep down I knew I was wrong to be critical…but I was anyway. It was a huge surprise to me when my daughter turned out to be a faster runner on their high school track and field team. I’d never encouraged my daughter to run and had no idea she was athletic.

    I ran into her mother recently and learned she joined the Peace Corp and was in some far flung country.

    Moral of the story? I was wrong. Wrong to have criticized that mother. Wrong to have neglected to encourage my own daughter.

    I was just plain wrong.

  94. TO in B-lo August 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    I haven’t thoroughly read thru all these posts, but one of my favorite counter-arguments is that more people, including young people, are killed/injured in car crashes every year than almost any other death/injury causing activity. (what those others might be, I can’t say)
    Yet we all get into our cars, we put our kids in our cars, everyday, without really giving it much thought at all.
    It’s just a way of putting things in perspective.

  95. Lacey August 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    What “worries” me the most about all of this hovering is that in a few years the world is gonna be covered with all of these young adults that don’t know how to do ANYTHING on their own.
    What I tell people in hovering discussions is “When is your child supposed to learn to be self-sufficient and self-relient? when he/she is 20? 30? never? When is he/she supposed to learn to make decisions for themselves, learn from mistakes, or use his/her own brain? If you are right there hovering ALL THE TIME the kid always looks to you for ideas not coming up with their own ideas and solutions. The kid grows up with no problem solving or decision making skills. What job is there ANYWHERE that you don’t need those skills?
    There’s a bad scenario for you. All of these hovermoms in their 60’s with their 30 somethings kids still living with them!

  96. Jennifer Creller August 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    My oldest daughter started walking to school halfway through her kindergarten year. This year, she’ll be in second grade and her little sister is starting kindergarten. I intend to let them both walk to school together. When someone questions me about it, I just explain that I know my oldest is competent, and we’ve had the “what to do if…” conversation many times. I try to keep the conversation lighthearted, and throw in some of my favorite memories of things I did alone as a kid, without appearing as if I’m sermonizing. I follow up with a “I’m so glad my girls have the opportunity to experience the things I did.”

    When all else fails, my bottom line argument is this: Bad things happen, and there’s not always something that can be done about it, but we shouldn’t make it the standard by which we live our lives. (That usually stops ’em dead in their tracks. LOL)

  97. JMS August 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    I took a parenting class last year because I was at a loss as to how to deal with my son, who was 5 at the time. It was multiple daily power struggles and had been for 2 years and one day I realized that if things didn’t change, I was going to lose him emotionally in not too long. I suddenly saw the road we were heading down and how disconnected I was destined to be by the time he was a preteen–not a pretty picture.

    One of the tenets of the class was “Never do for a child what he can do for himself.” Okay, I agree with that. But then we started analyzing struggles and behavior, I realized that I was a huge part of the problem. He already wanted to do more for himself and didn’t like the amount that I did for him. Of course, at 5, he couldn’t express this and so acted out in other ways. As I became more sensitive to it, I realized that I was, in fact, holding him back and I needed to cede some control. He was five years old and had never used a knife, for goodness sake! It wasn’t that I didn’t think him capable; it just didn’t occur to me to have him do it. (I was doing it for his toddler sister, anyway, so why not just do both?)

    Now, he’s responsible for himself as far as he is able. (Toasts his own bread, makes his own PB&Js, pours his own juice, etc.) We still have power struggles, but they are not to the degree as before. It has really made a difference in our household, and I’ve actually started to enjoy my boy again.

    That class made me realize that I *had to* free-range my son. If I didn’t I would lose my relationship with him completely. He was already on the road to resentment. I can’t imagine how bad the teenage years would have been. I’m just glad I recognized it when I did so I could course-correct before too much damage was done. The change brought about by that class and reading this blog has been dramatic–and quite literally a lifesaver.

  98. Katie August 4, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    I started free ranging with a 10 year old. I just told him flat out that I was wrong about some things. When I told him he should go down to the ice cream store by himself and he reminded me that it was dangerous, I just said; “Honey, I was wrong about that and I was being paranoid. You’ll be fine.”

    It’s working well for us. His self esteem is through the roof and he seems happier all around. One week after the ice cream trip he was looking up bus schedules on his own to go to the video game store. He’s a computer kid so climbing trees isn’t all that appealing to him but finding out he could go out on his own and look at games was. I’m sure if you make a list of things your kids enjoy, you can think of some journey that will appeal to them too. Good luck. 🙂

  99. ebohlman August 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    Marina:Also, if you tend to do too many things for them (laundry, make dinner) STOP. Maybe say, new rule. Thursdays are kids make dinner night! Have them plan and make dinner. Teach them to do their own laundry if they don’t already.,/i>

    You’re accurately describing some of the “baby steps” that too-scared-to-be-free-range parents should be taking with their kids. I’ve said on more than one occasion that there are at least two dimensions to overprotectiveness: the best known is trying to protect kids from real, but rare, dangers; the second, and IMHO the more damaging one, is trying to “protect” them from “ouchies” and “booboos”, or from having to take minimal responsibility for themselves. The latter is the least anxiety-inducing, and most productive, place to start.

    BTW, teaching kids to do their own laundry is especially beneficial for boys: Immediate end to the “war of the skidmarks”, less worry on the boy’s part over how his parents will view the telltale stains of puberty, and, most importantly, if your boy is one of the 95% or so who grows up to be heterosexual, he won’t develop this automatic assumption that the his wife/girlfriend is completely responsible for his having clean clothes. Too many boys grow up going through life believing that laundry is Someone Else’s Problem.

  100. Dave August 4, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    It is all about building a supportive community. Free Range is built on the idea that the community watches over itself. Children know their neighbors and the neighbors watch over each others children. We have moved to a society were the weight of child rearing rest completely on the parent who is expected to watch over the child 24/7.

    This parent needs to find brave like minded adults who will stand together against the societal pressure to be governed by fear. The community exists on line I.e. The web site. She needs to find neighbors who feel the same way.

    Converstion need to take place the look at reality. Linore you started the conversation as one accused parent and people where challenged to rethink what they believed. The community existed it just needs to be uncovered and formed.

  101. SuzyQ August 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    *Other* parents’ ability to let go of that worry have encouraged me to do the same. A recent example…my 13-yo son is attending band camp, 2 miles from our home, for an hour a day M-F. Problem is, I tutor 2 days a week and am not available to get him there on those 2 days. A friend called and said her son (friend of my son’s) was going to camp as well, but she babysits little ‘uns and the strain of getting them all out the door for two there-and-back trips was a bit much, and would my son want to walk with her son? I wouldn’t have sent him on his own, because the guilt would have killed me! But with someone else? Why not try? They have been walking it for almost 3 weeks now. A female friend has joined them…another girl came along 1 day, but her father followed them in the family mini van all the way there, and then home again later. (I don’t know whether to be amused or insulted!) Funny thing is, the friend who “instigated” this venture has an older daughter who also went on foot 4 years ago, but Mom is taking flak for “making” her son do it, because he’s in a WHEELCHAIR. As if that makes him incapable. He’s traveling with 2 or 3 other people, never by himself, and she’s getting guilt-tripped because he’s in a WHEELCHAIR, and how could she MAKE him do it?! Funny thing is, the other kids had to start riding their bikes to keep up with him (he does NOT have a motorized chair, BTW)…mom had to drop off a form one day and did it at the end of the session so she could just give him a ride home…his response was “thanks, Mom, but I need to catch up with my friends.” How can you argue with THAT success?

  102. hakuna-matata August 4, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    i have 2 children, a boy of 2 and little girl of 6 months. i am a free range parent. i am a very happy person and have a wonderful life. i also seem to have a genetic pre disposition to anxiety. for years i suffered from panic attacks and depression, scared ridgid by the fragility of life, the uncertinty, the unknown. then i had my beautiful little boy and i said to myself, this has to change. my over whelming love for my son could, if i aloud myself to think darkly, break me. if i imagined all the possibilities, the threats, the dangers, i didnt believe i would survive it. so i made a choice, id either not love my son as much (which was impossible) or i would try to parent him without anxiety. so that is what i do. i am a loving, conciencious mother, aware of the dangers but not afraid. wise but not worried. i dont watch the news. i dont read it. i dont listen to it. and when someone says, did you hear about poor such and such, i say “no and im sorry but i dont want to”. knowledge can somtimes be powerful but when we are bombarded by sensationalised, emotion drenched news stories of horror and remorse, one cannot stay afloat above it before it starts to pull you under, into fear. what we fear most is fear itself. dont let it in. those are my words of support to all parents.

    also, i must agree with an ealier post, i know there may be fewer newsworthy free range success stories but i would feel more inspired if we saw a few more on this wonderful site. cheers.

  103. Corinne Dobson August 4, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    I think what really needs to be done, is that the media, and everyone else stops demonizing parents when something does happen to a child. This starts at home, when you hear a friend blaming a parent because their child got hurt, remind your friend that sometimes it happens, and it’s not always the parents fault.

  104. Heather August 4, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    My daughter is only 5, so I’m taking it one day at a time. But a couple years ago my mother was giving me crap about how she (then three year old) didn’t need to play in the BACKYARD by herself, when I know I played in the backyard by myself at three. At that point in time I prepared myself by acknowledging some realities. 1. Something might happen to my kid. In fact, it probably will. If she is molested by the creepy neighbor, as long as I don’t pretend like it didn’t happen, than we should be able to get through it. Because the problem, to me isn’t the event itself, which is bad, the problem is not believing your kid. Just like, if she breaks her leg, I take her to the hospital. 2. There was a Dr. Phil episode where he had guests on that demonstrated what the child should do if someone grabs her. I made my daughter watch it with me. I realized then that we can prepare them in a healthy way, for these possibilities and teach them how to take care of themselves. Also, listening to them and communicating with them about what is going on in their lives not only helps you know what’s going on, but also seems to teach them to listen to their instincts. 3. I prepared myself for the possibility that I may someday lose her(in fact, I’ve been doing this since the day she was born-there are so many ways for them to die). I may lose her to a car accident, to a stranger, to cancer, etc. But even if she doesn’t die, she still has to leave me behind someday.

    And finally, I stopped listening to that voice in my head that sounds a lot like my mother’s voice that tells me I’m wrong ever step of the way. I don’t care what anyone thinks. I care that my daughter knows I love her and want the best for her no matter what’s going on in her life.

  105. Let Your Child Fail August 4, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Working on not needing everyone’s approval is a biggy. A child with a scraped knee is a child who has had fun the day before, not a child who is a bused and misused.

    I think as a society we have become obsessed with needing our fellow parents’ approval for everything, Educational choices we make, amount of supervision we provide our children, servings of vegetables our kids eat, and their bedtime routine.

    If we would be able to trust ourselves a bit more and need others’ approval a bit more, allowing our kids to be Free Range and perhaps make a mistake from time to time wouldn’t be all that threatening.

    We have to recover from our approval addictions.


  106. Mozzie August 5, 2011 at 12:06 am #

    I don’t think there are little things or examples that can get you past the one-two punch, especially the fear of blame. Parents just need to be brave. It’s hard, and society doesn’t currently make it easy to just be rational about this. It is all too easy to sacrifice liberty to gain security, and the world is willing to do that more and more. I believe that “those who sacrifice liberty for temporary safety deserve neither” and letting my child have his own life and his own freedom is part of that. But I have to steel myself against eventual blame or disapproval.

    It is interesting that the price we have paid for doing such a wonderful job of eliminating or decreasing the causes of child mortality is this new cultural desire to apportion blame to explain the rare child death. There are so few threats to children these days that we seem to believe we can totally eradicate childhood mortality, indeed childhood risk, if we are just vigilant enough.

  107. Tsu Dho Nimh August 5, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    Toni – have a blunt talk with your kids and tell them that you realize that your “helicopter” style is getting in the way of their growing up and taking charge of their actions.

    Ask them where to start – they may be sitting on the couch wishing you weren’t hovering so closely.

  108. Loep Delos August 5, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    Look at the comments:

  109. Neener August 5, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    First off, you hand them a copy of FRK. I’ve done it three times, and made two converts. The other one just thinks I’m nuts, but then again, the feeling is mutual. 🙂

    Honestly, I hate to echo everyone else, but a heaping dose of the Don’t Cares is mandatory, even though it’s hard to silence that CPS cop in your head. Knowledge is power – check the laws for your area as far as at what age can they babysit, be left alone for a few hours, be unattended at the park with friends. For me, a little knowledge goes a long way toward empowering me to make the decision I want to make, not the one I feel forced by a fearful society to make. Then you have to stop being intimidated by what others might think. Remind yourself that you know your child’s capabilities and personality just a smidge more than they do.

    Also, be a vocal fan of the team! When a friend starts criticizing another mom’s decision, stand up for that other mom’s ability to decide for herself what is best for her children. Answer the “how could she?!” remark with “her kids are alive and well, so clearly she’s doing something right”.

    When someone directs that sort of comment to me in person, I always remark that I’m raising a responsible, confident adult – she just happens to be 11 right now, but give her a few years.

  110. JaneW August 5, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    By exposing them to a small risk of harm, you are helping them protect themselves from greater risks later on.

    The first time I met a creepy pervert was on a long solo train ride.
    A man about 40 years old sat down next to me and started talking. I was fine with talking. An hour later, the second or third time he touched my arm, I decided I was NOT fine with touching, or the creepy way he was staring at me, and if he touched me again in any way, I’d scream.

    I’m glad it happened in such a safe situation.

    Safe? Absolutely. There were lots of other passengers, conductors whose JOB it is to deal with safety hazards or illegal activity. (Yes, illegal! I blossomed early, but I was still only 14!) He couldn’t have done anything on the train, and I certainly wasn’t going to get OFF the train with a stranger, not with Grandma expecting me!

    Luckily for him, he didn’t try to touch me again. Since then I’ve been a lot of weird places at a lot of weird times with some unbelievably weird people. But the next time I crossed paths with an icky guy, I picked up on the skeeviness a lot faster. Even in men trying to date me. If I’d met my first icky guy in a bar at age 20…

  111. Jess August 5, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    We gave our almost-2-year-old son popcorn the other day. I know he could aspirate and we’d be helpless to save him. My husband insisted, so I told him “it’s on your head.” You are totally right, I didn’t want the blame.

    What does work, is sharing the blame. With certain things, we band together and agree to let him be a kid. It’s easier when we know the maximum consequence is less than death. We can say, “If he gets sick, he gets sick,” but we have trouble saying, “If he dies, he dies.” Still, we try to remind ourselves of rational, reasonable risks (an idea I first picked up from your blog), the make a decision together and support one another. It’s just easier if we’re in it together.

  112. Nanci August 5, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    I have always had an unconventional approach to parenting so it’s never really bothered that just about everyone else does things different than me. I put a lot of thought into the way I wanted to raise my kids and I just ignore anyone who tells me different. Right from the beginning at my baby’s 1 week check-up I was told about feeding and sleeping from the Dr. based on popular opinion. I already knew what I was going to do, feed on an exact schedule and let the baby cry it out and learn to sleep on their own. I never breastfed, or did babywearing, in fact from about 3 weeks on I had my chidren practice “alone time” everyday (it was only 15 minutes when they were little, but grew to about 2 hours when they were pre-school age). I have always spanked and done the hot sauce in the mouth for lying, bad words etc. I have been the poster girl for unconventional parenting in the twenty first century 🙂 So why should being free-range be any different! My kids are 9 & 7 now and I am very pleased with the results so far. They are very responsible, obedient, good kids, and we are very close despite the lack of wearing and breastfeeding! My 9 year old still likes to come in a cuddle with me in the morning. I actually enjoy being different!

  113. LisaMama August 5, 2011 at 2:22 am #

    The first time I let my boys go free-range, they walked up to school (2 blocks away) to play basketball. They were ages 10 and 7. I was freaking out internally but tried to hold it together for them. Then I had a corny idea – we had some old walkie talkies stashed in a closet. I gave one to my oldest son and kept one at home (the school is close enough to be in range). They used the walkie talkies to tell me that they made it the park safely and then they told me when they were on their way home. They were so excited and happy to be on their own, and thought the walkie talkies were cool! And those silly walkie talkies made me feel better, too!

  114. Lollipoplover August 5, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    We also are fans of the long range (motorola) walkie talkies we have. They have a 5 mile radius, and my 10 yo son can clip it on the front of his bike and just press a button in an emergency. He also brings it to his neighborhood golfball/lemonade/snack stand when it’s in business.
    Usually, he messages with questions about what’s for lunch or if a friend he met while he’s out can come to play at our house.

  115. Dana August 5, 2011 at 5:03 am #

    I cannot agree more with “AMerica’s worst mom” it is no fun to be a kid that can’t do anything because it isn’t safe. Neither is childhood obesity from sitting in front of a computer or a TV. Our fear is probably also a contributing factor to our 30 year olds still living at home and our high divorce rate among other things.

  116. Tracy August 5, 2011 at 5:37 am #

    we have to realize that the negative comments don’t NEED to be answered. It is our choice how we parent. Unless my child is breaking the law, then all the comments in the world are unimportant. In the end, everyone has a view, an input or an argument. Rarely are they helpful, more they are intrusive. They are someone’s opinion. They are often antagonistic. America has become obsessed with interfering with everyone’s private life. I’m a counselor and have spent years teaching on how to deal with conflict. Generally people still feel the need to vent their thoughts but how we choose to receive them is ours.
    I know that often these are the people who’s kids don’t know how to leave home, do anything for themselves and are a financial and emotional burden to their parents long after we’ll be laughing! I know plenty of thirty and forty somethings still going back to their parents for everything. Imagine that! We’ll have a life and so payback is ours..

  117. Alan Young August 5, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    There is also the fear of nothing happening and *still* having legal and societal problems. How many stories have we heard about some mother (btw, I find it interesting that its almost always a mother) finding herself in legal trouble because she allowed her kids to free range.

    I’ve come to the decision that, regardless of what happens to me, I must do all I can to allow my children to grow up as normally as possible.

    Every time they leave for school in the morning, to three separate schools, complaining about how some friend or other gets a ride and how mean I am for not giving them a ride; every time they go to the park, or a friends house, or school or church activities, I worry about the phone call or knock on the door about one or more of my children from a neighbor or the cops.

    That’s my job as a father … but I’ve discovered something. While the worry and the fear never go away, it gets livable. I have to teach my children how to survive in the world.

    No parent has ever been able to protect their children from the world when the world decides it wants to stomp through your family. The only thing you can do is teach them to be as strong as they can while you have the time to do it.

  118. ebohlman August 5, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    While it’s a couple months old and is more about diagnosing the cause of the problem than offering practical advice on how to solve it, Frank Furedi’s Western parents need to chill out… is a good read.

  119. Nora August 5, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    things I have said to people when I know they are judging my free range approach with my children…

    about my 11 mth old:

    when she is sticking her face into the sand and eating mouthfuls of it or eating questionable rocks off the ground, I say something like (usually to my younger son, so others hear me say it) :

    ” did you know studies have shown babies as young as 9 mths(I think 9 mths, it was ages ago that I read that study) old are able to choose a perfectly balanced diet if they are given multiple options from the beginning of starting solids, and are allowed to take anything they want… I wonder if she has a Pica? its a mineral deficiency, maybe that’s why she likes to eat so much sand? we should mention that to her doctor at her next check up… babies are so much smarter then most people give them credit for”

    when she is standing holding on to something and she ‘Might’ fall on her bum I say:

    “It’s so important for babies to learn how to fall by themselves, and its a much easier lesson when you are small and have diapers on… If she doesn’t learn now, she might have problems with her balance that have been shown to remain until adulthood” (I read a study about that also)

    about my 8 year old:

    when he is at the cottage (roaming with friends) and I have not seen him for 3 hours:

    “I hope he is having as much fun as I had exploring and being with so many kids of different ages, as I had when I was growing up here… some days my folks would not see me for 2 days and I was his age, they only heard that we had pitched a tent in someones lot, gone for a bike ride to the store, in the rubber boat down the river, or was at someones place for burgers recently, from other peoples parents…”

    or when a friend of mine was worried about their child when my son was with them for 4 hours:

    “It’s so hard to teach them independence, that is something you have to learn from experience, isn’t it wonderful that even though we come from the city we still have places where kids can truly be kids and we don’t have to worry about the dangers of cars and drugs, besides the kids are together, they know to stick together and how to get help if needed, and what wonderful memories they must be making now”

    about my 6 year old:

    if he refuses to wear a coat or proper attire:

    “Sometimes you have to feel the cold to truly understand why you have to wear a coat, I hope when he gets older and goes on his own adventures, he always remembers to pack properly for the weather, I would hate for him to be unprepared for such things because I never let him have any natural consequences”

    I find if you know what you are talking about (or even just sound like you do) people are more likely to realize you have given thought into your actions, and they are more likely to think about it, or at least realize your reasons are not as life threatening as they would like you to believe…

  120. culdesachero August 5, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    Lenore, this is a very good question that gets to the heart of the matter. I think most of the posts so far, however, have been stories and examples of the commenters’ own free-range experiences rather than dealing with the subject of blame.

    Although, @Heather, your comment is spot on: ” I *will* be rightly to blame if my child grows up incapable of navigating the world on his own.”

    I find its better to take it case by case by, probing for the fears inside each parent.

    One mom I talked to was hounding her husband to watch their son every second at a big neighbourhood party. He just went around the corner of the house – nowhere to go – but, she had to know one of them could see him at all times. “What difference does it make?” I asked. “What if he gets hurt?” “Does it make a difference if you’re sitting here 50 feet away, or you’re standing right beside him? He could hurt himself right in front of your eyes or around the corner of the house, but you’re going to treat it just the same either way – ice or a band-aid.” Turns out he’d already broken his arm on a slide with his Dad watching. “Could you have prevented it?” “I might have seen it coming and yelled for him to stop going down.” So we have a mother who thinks she can forsee every potential risk for her child and piles guilt on herself (and her husband) for not preventing an accident. He seemed to have recovered, but she spoke of how hard the recovery period was on him. I told her of a friend who’s son broke both of his arms in a fall at daycare and he seemed to get through that (much the wiser, I’m sure). I find this approach often helps people put their fears into perspective, but it requires patience. She seemed to calm down a little and enjoy the party a little more after that talk .

    A wise friend told me something else that I think could be helpful to anyone:

    Most of the time, when something bad happens to a kid, it isn’t because of bad parents, it’s because of bad luck.

  121. NZ mum August 5, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    Today I accomplished my first free range parenting moment. My 2 year old and I were in a cafe picking up cakes and he didn’t want to stand with me and hold my hand. He wanted to go up to the lady who was drinking her coffee at the table and have a little chat about the trains whizzing by. So I let him go. And it was HARD! I couldn’t always see him. The door was RIGHT THERE leading out to the GENERAL PUBLIC! Even though I was right there, I was still worried. Until the lady said the most profound thing to me. ‘Your son is so friendly and confident. You must be so proud’. My fear is not his fear. My fear is irrational. His confidence is not misplaced. And that lady made my day.

  122. Robin August 5, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    culdesachero – my daughter broke 2 wrists and an elbow in her gymnastics class while I sat in the waiting room. There was not a darn thing I could have done to stop it, or her instructor. I was, of course, a wreck in the emergency room (it’s really hard to see your kid “broken” like that). But the doctor put her breaks in perspective when she told me if she hadn’t put her hands down to break her fall we’d be looking at brain injuries. So if the mom had been near her son when he came down the slide and broke his arm, she may have distracted him enough to cause worse damage.

  123. Rachael August 5, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    P R A Y

  124. Tracy August 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm #


  125. Gwen August 5, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    I think my response would be with questions…because as others have one likes to be preached to… I ask myself which there are many “right” answers.

    So, to someone questioning my choices with my child..I would ask them…..By inhibiting a child’s exploration..what is it you are hoping to achieve? What are you hoping they will learn by denying them this opportunity? Do you want to send them a message of fear? confidence? what?

    New experiences, unknown experiences, can be frightening…and yes..actually dangerous..very real danger. Can we address the danger by giving them tools/skills/ideas/limits/support..etc.etc? Can we see it as an opportunity to learn? we see it as something to avoid or fear? why?

    Don’t you think how we handle our children’s exploration will influence them? How will our children learn to be brave, articulate, thoughtful, strong, practical, confident, resilient, etc, etc, etc,,,,if they don’t have chances to learn to be those things and feel it in their guts?

    Isn’t it the small ways that children learn about themselves layer upon layer again and again as they grown that teach them about themselves, their family, their abilities, their desires, and the world? How can they can relate to it….and be aware of confident in it..climb it..master it..whatever they want to do in it..unless they try it? They have to go out and look for it..find it,.right? What better time to try to be all those things than right there with you as their guide nearby? eventually they will leave home…and you want them to do it as capable as possible, right?

    AS for the blame. We will all be blamed for everything our child becomes…or doesn’t become. I think its just the way it is. And yes, you may be blamed for being too over protective and not giving them the skills and confidence to make it successfully. And yes, thank you, that is something to think about.

    In dealing with peoples constant terror….what about giving them an ” I think your are crazy look” ? What about going on the offense instead of the defense and telling them how fearful they sound.. Could we politely point out how irrational their fear is sounding by…questioning it? Because if you can question down to the root of it…it is irrational fear…and it just doesn’t make any sense.

    We are confident as parents! We can reassure people that we know what we are doing . Our faces, our bodies, our actions will tell them …”No worries…we have it under control..our kids are exploring and learning and why aren’t you being supportive of that ?

    Its up to free rangers to be on the offense..not the defense.

    With all the cushioned safety we have now in our world…the terror comes from people who fear losing control. We just need to remind them..that they are not in control anyway…so stop focusing on it..and instead focus on giving your kids the skills and confidence to succeed.

    Because there are fearful people..they need to see our confidence and that we are not afraid! I think if we continue to focus on the details with them..the point is missed. The point is yes..bad things can and will happen..but I would rather give my kids the skills and knowledge found through exploration and independence rather they live in fear of the unknown and stunt their growth? period.

    I say this..with confidence… not anger..not attitude…with love.

  126. sylvia_rachel August 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    When I was a kid, I had a school friend whose mom was a helicopter parent long before it was in style. This girl, at 11 or 12, took piano and flute lessons and was in ballet and speech arts classes, and she was good at all of them but was afraid to tell her parents she would rather quit them all and just draw and paint (which she was even better at). They had a hot tub and a computer you could play games on long before anyone else we knew had those things. She had never used a kitchen knife or a vacuum cleaner, made her own bed, or folded her own laundry. But … she walked to school every day without adult supervision, just like all the other kids. She rode her bike around the neighbourhood, just like all the other kids. Her mom wouldn’t let her take the bus across town with me and another friend to get to choir rehearsal in Grade 7, but it would never have occurred to her (the mom) to drive her (the daughter) to school every day.

    So one thing I do, when I’m considering whether it’s safe to let DD do a particular thing, is to ask myself, “Would [friend]’s mom have let her do this at the same age?” If the answer is Yes, then I don’t worry about it. If the answer is No, then I ask another question: “Would my mom have let me do this at the same age?” And again, if the answer is Yes, I figure it’s just as safe for DD as it was for me.

  127. Janet August 6, 2011 at 5:31 am #

    You know what my biggest fear is every time I let my children “free-range”? Litigation. Yep – I’m more scared of the authorities than the bogeyman hiding in the bushes.

    Letting an 8yo walk less than a block to the park to play should be normal, but it’s not. So the “weird” parent who lets their child do this is the one who will be noticed (and not in a good way) by the “normal” parents whose 8yos are not allowed out of their sight.

    But I still refuse to let my children become “victims” who do not know how to fend for themselves (and I mean that in a life sense, not in a Bear Grilles Man vs Wild sense). So I let them go and free-range, and spend the time preparing my defence for the minute someone calls me on it.

  128. mighthavejoy August 6, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    Another place to go to for and create support is the school. In addition to knowing and being known by school staff, by being involved in the PTA or volunteering, free-range parents can make a difference.

    Our school is involved in a research study/grant to improve children’s health in the community, and has started sponsoring walk-and-bike-to-school weeks and helps track walkers and bikers and provides incentives for them to do so.

    I’ve also found that while the school as a institution tends toward the cautious, litigation-avoidance side, individual teachers celebrate children’s moves toward independence and self-sufficiency and can help like-minded parents connect with each other to support their children’s growth.

  129. Hineata August 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Just suggest to people that they have more kids!

    Seriously, when I had No. 1 son, I used to stress out over him, blame myself every time he took a tumble. Then I had two more, and it was amazing how much more relaxed I got. Should maybe have had another 5 or 6, and I’d be the most laidback mum around!

    Also, a few accidents help to put things into perspective. I had one kid at age four fall 12 inches off a geodesic frame, right beside the kindy teacher, and break both bones in her lower left leg. Daughter no. 2, age five and showing off for her uncle , fell 8 or 9 feet backward out of a tree and landed on a broken old hand mower. Nothing worse than a scraped back.

    Had the one second thing happen too. Daughter 1 (partially deaf) was racing down the footpath on her bike, having been told not to, when a driver came much too fast out of a driveway. He had one of those big grills on the front of his truck. The edge of the grill connected with her front wheel, she ended up scraped on the footpath. Very upset child, very shaky driver. If she had been a second further along he would have badly injured or killed her, because of her size relative to the size of the truck’s front end. We were just very blessed that time. Sometimes people aren’t. (BTW, both of them changed their habits post that incident).

    Blame is a waste of time.

  130. BK August 8, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    I am a first grade teacher. I have told parents who feel the need to protect their children from EVERYTHING that they are teaching their children two things, perhaps unintentionally: 1.) they love their children very much and 2.) their children are incapable of doing things on their own. There are plenty of ways to show them you love them, while at the same time letting them know that they are able to learn from mistakes, and are growing into very capable people.

  131. Cass August 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I enjoyed reading all these comments… And I didn’t realise just how naturally free-range I am (proud to realise it too). My daughter has had a knife and fork since she was 6mo. We settled into our house because it was walking distance from a primary school and riding/walking distance from the high school and because
    I have no intention of picking up my kids and taking them to afterschool activities (of course you won’t stop me from watching games and picking them up when needed). I let her attempt everything and don’t help unless she asks (which my 20mo daughter has learnt to do).

    My mum freaked when I let my 13mo wander around an empty arcade that we were having a coffee.. “what if someone grabbed her?” she was a fair distance away but the only risks were a person snatching her (low) or the shop door opening and closing on her fingers (still low)…. I have seen my mums youngest daughter and the helicopter parenting is obvious.

  132. bequirox August 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Toni, I agree with the posters who said to have a talk with you kids. I think you should also point out the them that they only have 2 & 4 years before they can move out, and they need to be prepared to do things on their own. You’re kind of lucky to start this late, because your kids are old enough that you can reason with them. If they’re scared of having a crime committed against them if they leave the house, look up your city’s crime statistics online. Just google “*state* crime statistics.” Ask your kids what steps they think they need to take to be ready to move out.

    Does the 16 year-old drive? You could have them run errands for you. They could do the grocery shopping on their own. The 14 year-old could do short shopping trips, too, if you live close enough for them to walk.

    Are you comfortable teaching them how to use the bus? They could start taking themselves to doctor/dentist appointments.

    Ask yourself what responsibilities you had at their ages, and give those responsibilities to them. I.e., when I was 12-14, my parents decided I was old enough to take the younger kids to the doctor. We didn’t have a car, so if one of my parents did it, they would have to miss an entire day of work to take the kid themselves, or the kid would spend an entire day sitting around the parent’s office. So I’d take the younger sibling on the 1.5 hour bus ride to the doctor, and then we’d bus up to the parents’ work for the rest of the day and then bus home as a family.

    At 8, I was doing my own laundry. At 12, I was regularly cooking dinner for the family. Also at 12, my parents quit driving me places. If I wanted to go to the library or a friend’s house, I walked (sometimes 2 miles). At 16, they stopped paying for my clothes, so I got a job.

    Good luck!

    (PS to Lenore: I think Toni’s question would be another good idea for a post.)

  133. brad August 10, 2011 at 12:39 am #

    Cass:” My mum freaked when I let my 13mo wander around an empty arcade that we were having a coffee”

    Yep wouldn’t want your kid to intervere with your precious coffee time now would you? And of course, it would be a blameless “freak” accident if the door did happen to close on her precious fingers. Oh well ! At least she’s free!

  134. EW August 10, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    I always think of my sister. When her daughter was about 9 she was invited to a skating party. When she got there, she saw that there was only one chaperone, so she decided to stay to help out.

    So here she was, trying to keep all the kids safer and what happens? Her 2 year old daughter got run over by an out-of-control skater and had her arm broken.

    This led me to understand that even doing everything “right, things can go wrong.”

  135. Beth August 11, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    brad, I really think you need to find another blog to troll.

  136. Uly August 11, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    If you just ignore him, it’ll work better.

  137. pentamom August 11, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Must….take Uly’s excellent advice. Must….resist responding to brad’s jerkishness.

  138. pentamom August 11, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    Toni — little by little. I have become more Free Range as well, though I don’t think the change was as great as the one you’ve gone through. Still, I taught my older kids independence much more poorly than I’m doing with my younger ones. My oldest is a classic self-starter and when she got old enough to be able to do things without my help, she just did them and wasn’t afraid to try. She’s a little used to my doing the non-fun stuff for her — financial aid, medical appointments, and things like that, but gradually I’ve just been matter-of-factly throwing the ball back into her court, and she takes it. But my second (18, going into senior year) is a classic non-self-starter — I think even if I’d raised him very Free Range from the beginning I’d still have to give him lots of kicks in the patoot to get him to do things for himself.

    So what I do is just insist on small things — or really encourage/expect more than insist. Instead of “Josh I’m going to make you an appointment for XYZ,” now it’s “Josh, make an appointment for XYZ.” And then I only offer as much information on how to do it, as he asks for. The thing is he’s actually pretty good at figuring things out — he’s just passive and wouldn’t do it if someone else did it for him.

    Little by little, I let him/make him assume more responsibility. The hardest thing is that I can’t yet get him to actually think through things for himself very well — I still have to think it through and make him follow through, on matters that are too important for that kind of lesson (I’m not going to let him screw up getting into college because *I* didn’t start teaching him to be independent soon enough.) But that’s just something we have to deal with. I’m sure over time, and as it becomes non-optional (i.e. college next year) he’ll adapt.

  139. MaileySmith August 13, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    We want our children to enjoy life while they are growing, but many of us parents go nuts on that idea. I found this blog it’s about a mother concerning her kids personal security and found out about a safety application that works on a cell phone. To know more follow this link

  140. Jon August 19, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    In 1985, I was 14 and went on a 10 day bike tour through Massachusetts organized through a New York City Y. There were about nine of us (boys and girls) from ages 14 to 16, and two women led the group. Basically we stayed in hostels and biked from one place to the next, always in pairs with one leader at the front and the other bringing up the rear. It was organized in such a way that allowed some independence for everyone, but also ensured that we were kept safe. We are talking teenagers biking through unfamiliar areas.
    I don’t know if they still do these types of tours, but I loved it and my parents rightly thought it would be a great learning experience.

  141. Brandy R August 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    I am so amazingly greatful to have found your blog. I have been that terrified.. and I mean T.E.R.R.I.F.I.E.D parent for the last two years. My help: a year ago my best friend had her first child. At first when I saw her practices I was mortified, but the more that I’ve seen and heard of her confident words, the more that I’ve become a little more sane. I have never been as confident as a parent as she has been since day one, and she had a child in the nicu to begin with. The more that I see them thrive together the better I have felt. And I’ve been absolutely envious of her confidence as a mother. We all need a better support system and others to look up to. And I’m so thankful that I was humbled by a mother who became one after I did. And that I was willing to look at things objectively and question my way of thinking instead of constantly judging others. My views have completely changed. I am now terrified of my previous mistakes with my son and only hope that I can raise a happy healthy being.

  142. TJ August 23, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Stuff like this paralyzes me:

    I think at 10yo they should be able to get themselves home without interference…at least the mom wasn’t arrested *yet* but she has been charged “with abandoning/endangering a child”

    I do think our children are too confined and too sheltered but when we let them stray out of the norm, a passerby usually gets involved– to the detriment.

    It is interesting though, here in Texas (full of BIG bugs and Big snakes and BIG dangerous climbing trees), our front yard was about 600 yards to the cul-de-sac street and I was comfortable letting the children play out there with me keeping an eye on them from the front porch. Yet, when we visited in California and would go to parks (smaller than our yard), people would yell at my kids to “get back here!” when they got farther than a car’s length from me, as if I weren’t doing a good job watching them.

  143. TJ August 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Oh, and @Liz S, your neighbor should know that in North Dakota, the school district mandates that children WILL go outside to recess unless the temperature is below MINUS TEN (that is 42 degrees BELOW freezing). I hated that rule while we lived there, but my children had to abide by it (with snow clothes/gear) but sometimes they wouldn’t put on their gloves or forget to pull up their hood, and they survived.

    What nonsense some people think because they don’t know any better, as if 60 degrees and barefoot is really a problem. Some parents sent their kids to school in shorts w/o snow gear and all the district did was call them to request more clothes. Something like that in the big cities would earn you a media nickname and formal charges of endangerment.

    Soapboxing done!

  144. Warren September 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Again so late to the party. My advice would have the fear ladden parent talk to some kids that have been there and done that. The parent will then see the positive outcomes, from first hand sources.

    I know it means kids talking to strangers, but in for a penny in for a pound.


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