Just Following Orders…At an Afterschool Program

Hi iaizaasyii
Readers: The letter below brings things full circle for me. While I have been interested in the way we underestimate kids and overestimate danger for a while now, I have been interested for even LONGER in the way decent people become trained not to use their brains or hearts. Eventually they come to think this is the RIGHT way to act. I think it is WRONG WRONG WRONG. And also: WRONG.- L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today I was at baseball practice with my older sons when my 3-year old said, “I gotta poop!!!” I could tell by the look on his face that it could not wait.  Although the fields are at a school, it was after hours and the restrooms were locked.

We went to the YMCA after-care, located on the school grounds, and asked to use the restroom.  By this time, there were no school kids in the room, just two employees. They looked at me apologetically, but said it was against policy to let a stranger use the facility.  At this point, my son wailed again, “I’m going to poop!”.  The employee went to ask her boss.  The boss returned and apologetically said it was again the rules and that her “hands are tied.”

I then realized that this daycare provider used to work at my son’s school!  I reminded her that she actually knew us.  I told her that my son might actually poop on her steps.  She then replied that if her supervisor found out she let him in, she would get fired.  After all, “What would happen if he slipped and fell in the bathroom? You could sue us,”she said.

I actually feel for the employee.  I do believe that she was following orders. But really, couldn’t a little flexibility have been possible in this case?

And yet…I have another modern day story. Our sons attend a wonderful school that literally is on the other side of the fence from our house.They open the back gate and are on campus. On weekends, they go down by themselves and play in the fields. The after-care program at the school is at the far end of the school, so it is approximately a five minute walk from our back fence.

I am frequently in a hurry, and I don’t want to drag my 3-year-old to the program to pick up his brothers.  I’ve asked if I can call the school and have my boys sent home.  I’ve been told that it is a liability to let my kids walk home by themselves, and that I must sign-in and out everyday.  I even offered to sign a release of liability, but my request was denied.

I understand organizations being afraid of lawsuits. However, I really respect most childcare providers. I would love it if the people caring for my children had the freedom to make exceptions once in a while. — Frustrated Mom

Lenore here: I’m a frustrated mom — and human — too. These rules are just like Zero Tolerance laws. We refuse to let people make sensible, case-by-case decisions because we don’t trust them, we don’t trust the world and we don’t trust each other (not to sue). In the end, we are crippled by the stupidity and cruelty this distrust engenders.

Halt! What toddler goes there?

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81 Responses to Just Following Orders…At an Afterschool Program

  1. matthewmiddletondotca March 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    You know, it makes me think that there might be a niche market for daycare and/or school that is openly, specifically free-range….

  2. Tim Gill March 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Reminds me of someone who told me about a nursery where a child wet herself, and she was then kept in the office for hours until her parents came to pick her up. The reason? There weren’t enough employees on hand for the ‘required’ 2 staff to accompany the child to the toilet.
    We all hear such stories all the time. The real tragedy is that those with the power to do something about it – the regulators and legislators – do nothing. With a stroke of their pens, they could rewrite the rules, reinstate common sense, *and* fend off the lawsuits. Because lawsuits take their cue from inflexible, tick-box safety rules.

  3. Lauren March 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    I feel so fortunate to have a daycare that is totally free range and basically the anti-thesis of most modern-day childcare facilities. And, we live in a small town where packs of children wandering around through backyards (which are UNFENCED!) is still de rigeuer. I love your blog, I’m totally subscribing! We are blogging a lot about these kinds of issues and questions at mama nervosa.

  4. Lola March 15, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    ??? Maybe we should switch from “Free Range Kids” to “Free Range Thinking”. Really, I would be terribly worried to leave my children in the hands of people who aren’t allowed to think for themselves. Regarding kids, I’ve learned to always expect the unexpected and I actually thought that was the beauty of them, stupid me!

  5. Marlene March 15, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    The bathroom thing is unbelievable. So sad they can’t use common sense. As for the after school care thing these programs are usually very anti free range. They are usually organized, highly supervised programs with planned activities and homework help available for the mountains of homework kids get today. It’s sad these kids in the programs can’t be spending their afternoons daydreaming, riding their bikes, playing in creeks, and going to the park like they should be doing. So I’m not surprised at their reaction. :/

  6. Heather G March 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

    About 12 years ago I lived across the street from the school and often enjoyed looking out the window and seeing the kids in the after school program playing on the playground. I remember thinking how great it was that kids were given freedom to play as the program I went to the two years we lived too far to walk to school was run according to the strictest of schedules. I also remember more than one neighborhood kid ducking into the school to use the restrooms rather than go home. I hope that program is still run that way.

  7. Anne-Marie Cox March 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    I seriously think my head is going to explode. Last time we went to hospital I requested a potty for my not yet 3 year old twin boys… Only to be told they can’t give me a potty because of infectious disease control and potties are not sanitary. Not sanitary? As opposed to what? Say crapping on the floor? Which one of them did… There clean THAT up… Real sanitary huh? Dimwitted fools… Arrrrggggghhhhh

  8. skl1 March 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    So sad. This touches on another “don’t get me started” topic, but I’ll restrain myself.

    I recall when my girls were three and their nanny had taken them to swim lessons. After drinking gallons of pool water, both had to use the restroom, but she would not let them go into separate stalls (in the same restroom, in a perfectly safe rec center) because she felt they were not old enough. I guess she thought a 3yo was likely to drown in a toilet while surrounded by adults? Or did she think the kid would drink the toilet water? I’m really not sure.

  9. kp March 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    I *really* hope she went ahead and let him poop on the steps. A little civil disobedience would be good for us all.

  10. Cynthia March 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    If these things were really about liability, then a waiver should be fine. Except that people have been found liable despite waivers, and that should be fixed.

  11. antsy March 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    matthewmiddletondotca – yes, that would be fantastic if we had official Free Range schools or even entire Free Range communities. I bet once a few existed, many more would wish to follow!

  12. Marie March 16, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    My kids’ school is pretty reasonable most ways, but after school activities aren’t always. My 4th grader can walk home immediately after school any day she likes, and when she’s done with theater club, walking home is fine too. But the day she went to the school dance, it turned out I should have given her a note with permission to walk home, because they were expecting all kids to be picked up by parents from that. In daylight, not even evening. I was completely caught off guard, but really relieved that they only needed to call and confirm that my daughter knew what she was doing. Annoyed that they doubted her, but at least they weren’t sticking so hard to whatever the rule was that I had to get her.

  13. PreachesToChoirs March 16, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    So do all the people allowed to use the toilets sign a waiver saying they will not sue should they slip in the bathroom? Why couldn’t they let her sign that? Or do they just keep the toilets locked and allow no one to use them?

  14. Mike March 16, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    I agree with kp. Crap on their floor and walk out.

  15. skl1 March 16, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    Next thing you know, they will close the restrooms at the parks. After all, think of all the things that can happen in a restroom! (I mean, there is some truth to that.) Ban restrooms! And to avoid wet pants, everyone under 12 has to wear a pull-up. (It’s not that out there any more, folks.)

  16. Suzanne March 16, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    She should have let him poop right in front of the building. I think it would be great to have free-range schools/communities as well. My son’s preschool is a lot better than most when it comes to free-range stuff. However, my older 2 go to elementary school and it’s like most others too many rules about stupid stuff that doesn’t matter and too little effort in encouraging community and kindess to one another.

  17. lucy March 16, 2012 at 1:16 am #

    This happened to me once, and I just forced us through into the facility not giving the employees a chance to say “no”. There is a “right” thing to do, it should be done. The emmployee couldn’t get into trouble because you pushed your way through.

    Sometimes it is just better to not ask, or as they say “do it and ask for forgiveness later”.
    The other “argument” is that the school is a public facility paid for by my tax dollars and within a reasonable circumstance and/or emergency, we need to be able to use the facility.

  18. mollie March 16, 2012 at 1:43 am #

    I had an after-care program that had the strict “sign in and sign out” rules. I pleaded with them to allow my son to leave, without my signing him out, at a specific, agreed time, every time, but they wouldn’t have any of that. Their licensing required this log sheet and procedure, and even if the kid yelled, “Grandma!” joyfully and sprung into my mom’s arms, they wouldn’t release him to someone “not on the official sign-out list.”

    The way I got around it was to write in their “absence book” that my son wouldn’t be at the program on whatever days I marked. Then, if he happened to show up, he could leave whenever he wanted, because he was officially “absent.” It worked for them, and worked for us.

  19. mollie March 16, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    This is just a strategy around a rule, though, and what Lenore was referencing sounds a lot like “Amtssprache,” what one Nazi official referred to as the “language of bureaucracy,” which denies choice and assigns responsibility for one’s actions to the rules and structure, and refusing to bring one’s own conscience into the mix. Phrases include, “But I was just following orders,” and “That’s what the law says.”

  20. Burke March 16, 2012 at 1:54 am #

    Unfortunately it’s the sad truth that our country is so sue-happy that instances like this end up happening. Sadly, there are a few bad apples that ruin it for the rest of us, making it hard for anyone to feel like they can trust anyone else. By the way, curious to know what the outcome of the “poo” situation was, and if her son managed to get to a bathroom in time or not. 🙂

  21. CrazyCatLady March 16, 2012 at 2:19 am #

    The better example of following the rules being the wrong thing was the side link Lenore had last week of a man who was face down in the water, but the police (in the UK) were not allowed to go into the waste deep water to save him. One superior ordered his subordinate not to go in. The man drowned while they waited for the “authorized” officials to get there. Inquest showed that the man could have possibly been revived if the officer had gotten him out of the water when he originally wanted to.

    Back in the day when I took my life guard class, they taught the lifeguards how to do a rescue without a floatation device, and how to do releases if you were pulled under the water by the person you were trying to rescue. (People who are drowning often panic and push the rescuing person under water.) Now, they only teach how to do the saving with a floatation device, so that a “trained” individual will feel that they cannot save a person drowning unless they have the floatation device. I feel this puts the lifeguard in danger because they do not cover that panic issue, and if for some reason the life guard loses his float (current or such) the life guard will have no idea of what to do.

    Happening on a drowning is pretty rare, and people should reach or throw, don’t go if they have not been trained. But now, no one is trained, and with a kid caught under the water in roots, a float may not help anyhow. A classmate saved a friend caught that way when they were in 4th grade. It could have ended badly with both drowning, but it didn’t due to his quick thinking and the other kid not panicking.

  22. CrazyCatLady March 16, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    Oh, and as to that original case, if the person is face down and not responding, it is very unlikely that when you turn them over that they will suddenly try to pull you under, which I think was the original police thinking. That person needed mouth to mouth, and was not going to fight.

  23. Donna March 16, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    While I feel for the boy and the mom, asking someone to risk getting fired over your child is a bit selfish. That person has responsibilities to be met and needs a job to meet them and jobs are not exactly an easy commodity these days. There are many reasons that I would risk my job. I’m certainly not going to kill someone in order to keep it. A pooping is probably not going to do it for me though.

    Yes, the rules need to change to allow more decision making freedom, but crapping on the floor and otherwise antagonizing the daycare worker is not the answer. The frustration needs to be aimed at the rule makers.

  24. Havva March 16, 2012 at 2:26 am #

    Is anyone here familiar with the state of Montessori Schools these days? The original philosophy and the practice when I was a kid was pretty compatible with free range thinking. But I wonder how much schools today have yielded to current paranoia and liability concerns.

    For example when I was 4 my Montessori school showed me how to use a vegetable peeler and a knife. I then peeled and cut carrots to share with my classmates. I was allowed to request that activity once a day there after. When I was 4 or 5 I sewed a button onto fabric with regular needle and thread.

    Now my niece and nephew are in a “Montessori” (though I’m not sure of the teacher accreditation). They are touching on the same activities, but it no longer is a real world activity they can put to use right away at home. They cut bananas with a plastic knife. Sew with a large plastic blunt needle through pre-cut holes in a large piece of paper. I have reservations about what this really teaches because they get to use a “knife” but there is zero danger. Do they even get a knife safety lesson, and if so do they pay attention?

  25. Christina March 16, 2012 at 2:58 am #

    Havva – It doesn’t sound like your niece and nephew are in an accredited Montessori, but are rather attending a “Montessori-style” school. My twin boys are in their second year of 3-6 (they’re 4) and use vegetable peelers, scissors, knives sharp enough to cut vegetables, real needles, set the table for lunch (with real plates, bowls and glasses), have been taught how to safely use the microwave at lunchtime and so forth. Cuts and nicks and bumps are examined and, if necessary, bandaged. Accredited schools will list their accreditation on the school’s website (look for AMI and AMS accreditation).

  26. LarryK March 16, 2012 at 4:11 am #

    Managers/supervisors feel that they can’t trust their subordinates. Then the subordinates internalize their powerlessness to bend rules to fit the real world. Read The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America by Philip K. Howard for more on this.

    This is so common in our society that Nordstrums is famous for NOT doing this. Eg their employee who accepted the return of tires even though Nordstrums doesn’t sell tires. And similar stories.

    Negotiating with the subordinate usually won’t help since they’ve internalized their (self-created) lack of decision making capacity. You can try personalization, “suppose this was your 3 year old?” or “Do you want to be customer focused? (use a slogan from the company’s own self-description.) Then let my 3 year old use your toilet.” But be prepared that often neither will work.

    Often a better way is to assume a position of urgency plus power/competence: “It’s an emergency. My 3 year is using your toilet. ” (“Emergencies” often trump rules so it can work to “declare” an emergency.)

    If the subordinate says they can’t approve it then say “who can approve it?” and direct the sub to go talk to that person for you. Depending on the circumstance, you could meanwhile continue as if you had approval. Later apologize if need be.

    “To ask permission is to seek denial.”

  27. Cass March 16, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    This stuff never ceases to amaze me. How do you fix it? If the authorities demand strict policies how do you fight it? Abiding by it all just adds weight to these silly rules and regulations.

    I am a teacher. On my last day of teaching (before maternity leave) my students planned a surprised party for me. They bought in cold stuff which they put in a staffroom fridge (they organised this with my boss), they got the classroom keys off my boss (note: he gave them to them without hesitation), and the organised a good sharp knife from the home economics teacher to cut the cake. The home ec teacher was a bit hesitant at first (against all rules and regulations to give a kids a big knife), but she wrapped it in a tea-towel and told them not to poke anyone.

    …. Brilliant memory, full of authorities using common sense.

  28. Cass March 16, 2012 at 4:16 am #

    Just had a thought…. When are you going to organise a space, or dedicate a weekly/fortnightly/monthly blog post to “stories of normal” (like mine above)? It is uplifting to read that normal and free-range stuff is safe.

  29. KD March 16, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    About 4 years ago my husband and I were heading out to a particular store about an hour from our home to get a present for our middle daughter and had our youngest (4 at the time) with us. The drive has a large area where there is no where to stop except for the exit where the zoo, children’s museum, and forestry center are held. Of course our little girl had to “GO RIGHT NOW” when only this exit was available. Knowing that the zoo and museum were not going to be able to accomodate our problem, I took her into the forestry center only to be told that there was a field trip there and that they were closed to the public for that day and that letting in a stranger (with a child mind you) was a danger to the students. I begged a little i am ashamed to say but to no avail. We walked out and I explained to my husband. His response? “It is the Foestry Center, it’s about time she learned to go in the great outdoors.” He then opened the back of our van for a bit of cover and gave her her first lesson in going potty, camping style.

  30. Ben March 16, 2012 at 5:25 am #

    If they don’t even accept your offer to sign a release or a waiver, they’re not afraid of lawsuits. Something else is going on.

  31. skl1 March 16, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    KD: I would have done the same thing. My kid had to pee in the woods (private property, I think) when she was 2. And when she was 3 she needed to go in the bushes next to a bus shelter. That kid has the worst timing!

  32. Cass March 16, 2012 at 5:46 am #

    Is “pulling over on the side of the road” {to pee due to a lack of available facilities” not done in the US? It is common enough here that everyone (city-siders excluded) has done it at least once or twice in their lives.

    As for losing ones job over letting someone poop. The argument here is not that the employee was bad, she was merely following well-ingrained fears, I mean rules. The story is highlighting the need for social change.

  33. Ms. Herbert March 16, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    Every after school club at my school has a How will Child get home section. Because the sponsors might not know the child’s normal way home. That includes our 5th grade dance.

    If the YMCA after school program tried to stop a child from using our restrooms heads would roll.

    We had a parent go off on us because we called all the parents in one direction and told them they would have to come to the school and pick up kids that afternoon. Reason – the road between our school and the apartments was flooded – not ankle deep flooding like the other side of the school. This was knee to waist deep on an adult. If you stepped off the narrow sidewalk into the ditch it would have been over the head of most of our K-2 and even a good percentage of our 3rd and 4th graders. (Earlier in the day the administration, tutors, and aides came around and got keys from anyone parked on the back lot that boarders on this road, to move their cars to the front lot. If they had waited 30 minutes cars would have been flooded out.

    I’ve been at this school since 2001 – 2002 school year. I’ve never seen it flood like that – the ground was hard as a rock from the drought. We think that the ground being like concrete increased the runoff causing the flooding.

  34. tommynomad March 16, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    Time to hold a poop-in.

  35. CrazyCatLady March 16, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    Another response to the “I will get fired” is “Call your boss so I can ask! And make it quick or you are cleaning poop!”

    Why doesn’t the school have one bathroom open for kids to use? I suspect that the baseball organizers have to pay to use the fields, why does a bathroom not come with?

  36. hineata March 16, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    I must be a bit luckier with my afterschool experiences – even once had my then 11 year old misunderstand my instructions in the morning and go straight to afterschool care from his own school, to sign his little sisters out. Because he was well known to the supervisor as a sensible kid, she just assumed I was waiting in the van to take them somewhere. When I turned up half an hour later to collect them, there was a bit of a panic on her part, but I thought it was such a laugh she soon saw the funny side of it too. Sure enough the kids were at home where he’d got them their afternoon tea, and no surprises, they were all watching telly (because Mum is a telly nazi…!)

    Have been lucky with the toilet part too, because the school playground is close enough to our house that the kids can get back in time, but also preschoolers after school just use the school loos with no hassle. I have sent the children back to school though to play when some holiday programme workers have tried to tell them that the playground during holiday time is only for the ‘Holiday Programme’ (different crowd from the usual a/s group). This is utter crap, as our taxes pay for state schools from the ground up, and no group has ‘exclusive rights’ to the outside areas of state schools outside of school hours.

  37. Ruth Kenrick-Smith March 16, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    I hope Frustrated Mom has written a polite complaint to the proprietors of the Care programs, the local & national papers, and to her local politicians – and has encouraged other parents to do the same. I saw Jamie Oliver speak recently & he stated that Governments (and other organisations) admit that they will not change unless ‘they are forced to’ by the people.

  38. This girl loves to talk March 16, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    @ cass I think that too! there should be posts on how to faciliate kids catching buses, playing alone, schools that allow free range thinking, etc etc. Too many posts on the bad stuff doesnt really help us. I think positive how-to posts would help the non freerangers and the mini free ranges (as I call myself) on our road to full free range hood!!

  39. Jenn March 16, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    I had the exact same thing happen to me when I was with my daughter shopping for shoes in town. She was almost three years old and said she needed to go pee. I asked the shop keeper if she could use the washroom and she said they did not have a washroom for customers. I explained it was for my toddler who is toilet training (like that should really matter- if you gotta go- you gotta go!) and I was still refused. Next thing I knew my daughter was standing in a giant puddle of pee. So giant that it not only was all over the shop floor but had leaked out to their merchandise on the floor. She then tracked pee on her shoes through the store. I then said (okay yelled), “This is why we don’t refuse customers who need the toilet!” Nice payback but my poor daughter was so sad that she had an accident.

  40. Beth March 16, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    I’m surprised there are no reactions to Donna’s comment, above. I agree with her. Despite the fact that I wish those in charge of serving customers would be given the authority to make independent, common sense decisions, I would not want someone to get fired because my kid had to go to the bathroom. I don’t think I have the right to demand that she take that chance, nor do I probably have the right to soil her working area because she wouldn’t take that chance.

  41. Jenn March 16, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    I have to disagree with Beth and Donna. It is not selfish to ask to use a washroom because someone might get fired. Really? Fired over letting a human do what humans need to do? Using a washroom facility should be a basic right to all humans. I traveled around the world with a friend with IBS and in many countries it is illegal to go on the street, side of the road, or in a wooded area. Even in places where you need to pay to use the facilities, they would allow a person in who was in an emergency state and no change. By not going, you can cause a lot of damage to your body, not to mention, a rather embarrassing situation. If someone did not allow me, as an adult, to use the facility and it was an emergency, I would ensure that a complaint was issued (hoping that the employee got fired on non-compassion grounds) and call in the local media. It is ridiculous that a person has to shame themselves by having to poop their pants just because someone can’t be compassionate and allow a bathroom break. If you would get fired over that, find a new job. Obviously the one you have has terrible working conditions.

  42. Lisa @ Organic Baby Atlanta March 16, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Yes! I want positive stories and advice, too! Like, when should I let my now four-year-old go to the playground alone if getting there involves crossing a pretty major road? I’ve been teaching her the rules of the crosswalk and stoplight but it’s a big road (4 lanes, I think?). And kids are never on that playground without parents, even though there are lots of families here and almost always other kids on the playground. But I’ve never seen any kid you get than 13 there without a parent. Granted, most of the families in our area are young so there aren’t a lot of 8/9/10 year olds in the neighborhood (or maybe those kids are too busy with after school activities to go to the playground?). Anyway. I’m thinking about it now but have no framework for deciding when it’s a good idea. Much less walking to school by herself, which will probably also involve crossing the same street as well as the whole park.

  43. Jenn March 16, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    Lisa- I have to agree! My kids are 7 and 5 and we started letting our 7 year old go to the park to meet with friends last summer. This year, we’ve allowed them to go on their own together (especially because the 5 year old went on her own adventure to the park last year without permission so we learned that she’s ready for the independence but needs to learn about telling people what she’s up to). My kids usually pick up a 4 year old friend and bring her to the park with them, which is an arrangement that we’re okay with. A friend lives across the street from the park and has children the same age and has started to allow her kids to go to the park on their own but she stays on the porch to supervise them. She was appalled that a 4 year old was sent on her own to the park. I’m appalled that her 8 year old can’t!

  44. Verena Beckstrand March 16, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    Here in China people just hold their toddlers over the trash while they do their business. (Yes, really, but it’s better than them just peeing on the floor, which they do more often than that.) As absolutely disgusting as that is, maybe she should have threatened it. Maybe that would bring some sensibility back to people.

  45. Jen March 16, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    @mollie Re: only people on the approved list can pick up students

    That rule actually makes sense to me. Keep in mind that most abductions are non-custodial relatives. A personal-experience example: my mom was a Girl Scout leader 20 years ago, before a lot of the ridiculous paranoia. There was a family with a 5-year-old in the troop. Her parents were divorced, and mom had full custody, with a restraining order against dad. The girl would talk all the time about wanting to see her daddy, because she didn’t know much other than that daddy was gone. While her dad never tried to pick her up at Scouts, he did try at school several times. The girl was always eager to go with her dad, but luckily the mom had alerted everyone at the school not to let her.

  46. Betsy March 16, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    It really is sometimes easier to ask for forgiveness than permission (and no one will get fired if they didn’t actually GIVE permission). Last summer while visiting Chicago from out of state our 5 year old yelled “I gotta poop, NOW!” Screeeech, double park the minivan full of relatives on the way to a wedding rehearsal dinner, hustle him into a bar (this is maybe 5:30, 6 pm, light out, no patrons yet). Said “it’s an emergency, he has to poop” and ran to the restroom visible in back as the bartender was saying “um, children aren’t allowed in here….. Click” (the sound of me closing and locking the door). Had to remove his underpants and have him go commando, but we were out of there in less than 5 minutes. Guess the laws are different in Illinois than Michigan, but gee officer, would you like your shoes crapped on?! I thanked him on the way out.

    On another note (Lisa Organic Atlanta), I don’t think most child development experts recommend a 4 year old crossing a “major road” (and they are so short!). Some kids are ready at 8, others will still “dart” (some studies have shown kids of that age doing just that). It may very much depend on the kid (mine has ADHD; his judgement may need a lot of maturing before he’s crossing a street alone)

  47. Decemberbaby March 16, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Havva, My daughter is in an accredited Montessori school and she uses sharp things and breakable things in school and at home. And you’re right in thinking that Montessori is very compatible with free-range parenting. I’m pretty sure that our school is one of the few where the kids are still allowed to climb the trees and throw snowballs at each other!


  48. Dave March 16, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    This story is just unbelievable. You have to get permission from your boss to let a child us the restroom and then the answer is no because they could fall and sue. This is to strange to even imagine except it really happened.

    When we can no longer extend common courtesies to each other as fellow human beings with legitimate needs the idea of kindness and neighborliness no longer exists. The ramifications are to numerous to mention. If we will not let a child use the bathroom will we come to their aid in a real emergency or will we walk away afraid that we will have to pay for our kindness.

    As for me if it is a choice of losing my job or letting a child use the bathroom the decision is an easy one. Better to act in kindness to a child and take my chances with my boss. The adults behavior in this case is inexcusable.

  49. Havva March 16, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    @Christina and Decemberbaby, Thank you for the info. I am glad to know that the early school experiences I so deeply value are still available. My daughter at just 13 months is already showing a huge desire to do things for herself (washes her own hands and face at the sink) and help at home (scrubs floor when I do). It is good to know what to look for to ensure that I get a real Montessori school that will provide the environment she needs. I’m a bit of a wimp about taking the first step, so having a good school leading the way is a key part of my free range strategy.

  50. skl1 March 16, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Not disagreeing that folks ought to be more humane, but I always kept a little mini potty in my trunk in case we were ever in a really sticky situation. In fact, it’s still back there. Never actually had to use it, though we pulled it out a couple times when someone was nauseous.

  51. Ms. Herbert March 16, 2012 at 11:43 am #

    We have similar rules for the same reason. There is a list of 10 – 20 endangered kids (that doesn’t include the foster kids – they are a separate list) behind our receptionist’s desk at my school. Sometimes it is an abusive parent (we have to have court orders and documentation for that), more often it is a crazy grandparent, aunt, or uncle.

    Parents should know that babysitters, even family need a medical POA to get emergency treatment if something happens. About 10 or so years ago a young cousin jumped off a gazebo in the park and landed on glass – barefoot. He was coming from the pool. It was HOURS before he could get stitched up. His Mom was at an inservice on a University campus on a Saturday. His father was a builder working on several different subdivisions – and no-one had voice mails. His grandparents had to call another relative to go to the university and find the Mother.

    I know that some here will say it is paranoid. But I hit double digits trips to the ER before I got out of HS, my sister’s record was a little behind mine. (Mine is allergies, Sis falls out of trees, down stairs, beaks legs falling over dogs, and breaks knees falling down mountains.) My 4 year old nephew was skiing blues today, his 7 yo was on the blacks and pestering her parents to go down the most advanced trails on the mountain.

  52. gap.runner March 16, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    A couple of weeks ago I had to go through mandatory annual customer service training. Part of the training was the idea that employees should be empowered to make decisions and not always have to ask a supervisor for permission. We are supposed to go that extra mile for our customers. If there is an extenuating circumstance, like a child needing to use the toilet, then we can decide how to handle it without asking. For example, in my job in a student dormitory, I am not supposed to let a student change rooms without going through the office which assigns the rooms and my supervisor. But if there is a situation which warrants an immediate move, such as the heat or the toilet not working, I have the authority to change that student’s room. After the room move, I then inform the office and my boss that the student had to move and why.

    It sounds like the daycare provider in the story above didn’t own her job or feel empowered to make a decision in a special, and probably rare, situation. While we have to be careful about setting precedents, we also need to evaluate a situation and decide on the correct course of action. In this case, I would have let the child use the toilet. If the worker was that worried about the child falling in the bathroom, she could have said that he can use the toilet with parental supervision. Someone who works in a daycare program should also know that when a child says he has to use the toilet he usually can’t wait, but that’s another story.

    I also like the suggestion of posting stories of “ordinary” occurrences that fit the free-range philosophy like kids biking or walking to school by themselves, using knives in school, or taking public transportation alone. The more stories with good outcomes that people are exposed to, the more they will start to believe that there are not perverts and abductors on every street corner and behind every bush. We free rangers have to be just as incessant, if not more so, than the “focus on one-in-a-million events” media.

  53. Andy March 16, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    @Beth part of the problem is, that most people accept two things:
    1.) “no matter how small the rule or what circumstances, if you break it you deserve to be fired, jailed or whatever ”
    2.) “The problems are solved by policies. If there is a problem, the company has to make policies to tell people what to do if the situation occurs again.”

    First is a problem, because you simply can not have both independent decisions and perfect observations of rules. No matter how elaborate rule system is, it will not cover all possible situations.

    The thing is, anytime someone let you go to the toilet after the institution has been closed, he broke some rule. That is possible only if that person was fairly sure that such thing will not be hold against him.

    Second, even if the one who created the rule would be willing to change the rule, how do you want to change it:
    * Anyone with kid under 4 years can use the toilet any time?
    * Anyone desperately looking can use the toilet any time? How do you define desperately looking?

    Anytime school, court or employee allow strong consequences for small broken rules, they teach people not to use their brains. However, ultimately, if you allow them to use their brains, someone is going to do a bad judgement. How will the court resolve the situation then? Will the company be hold accountable because “there was no policy”?

    Given the situation above, the one who create the rules may have no choice. There is not reason find and bug him. The society demands policies, it is his job to make them. Some kid needing to go to toilet is lesser price than expensive lawsuit (even if he would win it, he still has to pay lawyers).

  54. BMS March 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Lisa@Organic: We live on a busy road, lots of truck and other traffic. We are on a really awkward corner as well, with three side streets meeting the big road at funny angles. Nevertheless, we started teaching our kids early how to handle this street. The alternative is to be stuck on this little island forever (our block is small, awkwardly shaped, and has busy roads on 3 of the 4 sides). A block away from our house is an intersection with a walk light that stops the traffic in all directions. When the kids were around 5 or so we trained them to go down to the corner, hit the walk light, walk your bike across when the walk light goes. It was annoying – you had to go a block out of your way to get across the street – but it gave them the confidence and independence, and gave me fewer gray hairs. By the time they were 7 or 8 I had taught them how to wait for the light up the street to turn red, check for cars on the three side streets, then cross when it’s safe. At 11 and 10, I am pretty confident that they will wait until its safe to cross. I do spot checks where I watch them without them knowing, and they always do the right thing. And yet, they have classmates whose parents won’t let them go anywhere, because there are busy streets, and no one wants to take the time to teach the kids street smarts. Sigh.

  55. AnotherAnon March 16, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    I had a very similar situation recently. Picked up son from school, followed another mom that I know to the JCC playground which is near the school but more than a mile from my home. In the middle of play, my 5-year-old also has an “I’ve gotta poop now” emergency, so I take him to the JCC building.

    I’m a member of the JCC. My son has attended camp at the JCC. The card printer at the JCC is currently broken, so I can’t ge clearance to get into the clearance only areas, because they simply haven’t issued my card.

    We get to the preschool door (the closest one to the playground) and one of the daycare providers, who recognized us from the summer and knows the issues with a lot of people not getting in, let us in to the building. We go into the preschool room, which is empty except for a couple of instructors that we didn’t know, and they immediately begin interrogating us. Who are we? Who let us in? What do we want?

    I was so annoyed that an obvious mom and kid (and a kid dressed in a yarmulke and tzitzis, no less) would be treated like they didn’t belong in the JCC preschool. They did let him use the bathroom but acted like they were doing something surreptitious and wrong in doing so.

  56. PreachesToChoirs March 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to work in a place that had such ridiculous rules. If something is wrong I stand up for it, even if it means I have a few less dollars in my pocket for awhile.

    Nope, peeing on the side of the road is usually illegal in the US. For teens and adults, it can even get you put on the sex offender registry.

  57. EricS March 17, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    What a bunch of dummies. No common sense. I wonder, if the boy was literally dying at their doorstep. Will they still be too afraid to go against “policy”? Hmmmm. Rules can, and have been bent to accommodate certain situations in the past, and will continue to in the future.

    And I don’t understand how a Sign-In and Out sheet is better than actual signed waiver by the parent. A carefully outlined waiver will hold up so much better in a court of law, than a sheet that says Name, Signed In, Signed Out. Personally, I haven’t seen a Sign-In and Out sheet that has a specific disclaimer. I see dumb people. lol

  58. Juliane March 17, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    There’s a great outdoor area in a museum here in my city where my oldest daughter learned how to ride a bike . To my surprise, we went there last month and a security guard told us she had to get out of the bike IMMEDIATELY because it wasn’t allowed to ride bikes there. You know why? Because an accident could happen! I’m really gonna make it public here, something has gotta be done!!!

  59. Janie4 March 17, 2012 at 4:05 am #

    I understand that children have emergencies, and in this case, I agree that the child should be allowed to go (it’s a daycare for children, no chemicals in the bathrooms or personal property belonging to employees, the employee knew the person and the bathroom is routinely open to children). I would have let the woman and her child in immediately.

    However, not all bathrooms at stores and bars are so nice. Sometimes, the employee bathroom doesn’t have a lock, is in a storage room with chemical, or in a place where employees put their (unlocked) purses. Also, sometimes people trash public bathrooms. People whose jobs it is to clean public bathrooms say they find feces and vomit not just on the floor, but on the walls. I think some jurisdictions say that bathrooms must be cleaned x times per day.

    Sometimes, employers ban the public from using the bathrooms because these issues are more common than the true emergency (which I have had, having a digestive track with a mind of its own). I know no one here would leave the bathroom that way, but how can the store owner or employee be sure?

    I’m a big believer in employee discretion, and I would again in most situations err on letting someone use the bathroom. But after umpteenth employee complaints because someone jammed up the toilet with something that couldn’t flush, denying my employees a bathroom, or dealing with arguments over who has to clean the shit on the walls, I can understand why retailers don’t let anyone use the bathroom.

    Two sides to every story.

  60. Andy March 17, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    @PreachesToChoirs Nope, peeing on the side of the road is usually illegal in the US. For teens and adults, it can even get you put on the sex offender registry.

    What does Americans do, when there is no toilet around and they need to go?

  61. Donna March 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    “Personally, I wouldn’t want to work in a place that had such ridiculous rules. If something is wrong I stand up for it, even if it means I have a few less dollars in my pocket for awhile.”

    Spoken like someone with more than a few extra dollars in their pocket.

    I’m a single parent and the sole support of my child. If I am out of work for a period of time (highly likely if you lose your job today), my family would be in dire straights. We would likely lose our house and become dependent on welfare. As bad as I’ll feel, if I truly have to choose between your child pooping and my job, your child pooping is going to loose every time. The child will have long since pooped and forgotten the whole incident while my child is packing to move out of our house. And I’m financially better of than many people. I at least have some savings and I have some relatives who could help for a time.

    I don’t ever assume that a person can just cavalierly throw away a job. I know nothing about them. I don’t walk in their shoes. I don’t have their responsibilities. I don’t know what they’re risking. I don’t know what they have at stake.

  62. skl1 March 17, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    Re peeing on the side of the road – it is illegal but there are exceptions for when you have a really desperate need.

    Usually within a populated area, there will be some place where you can go (McDonald’s, gas station, something!) and in more rural areas, you can find a place that isn’t visible to bypassers.

    Once when I was 18 I was working as a carney until the wee hours in rural towns (you know, those cute street fairs). I had been drinking free pop all day and for whatever reason did not use the facilities there when I got done with my shift. I found I could not drive all the way home without making a pit stop. I stopped off at a tiny town and tried to find an unlocked public restroom, but to no avail. I tried a church, but the door was locked. I went around to the back of the church, where a guy was sitting. I told him my situation and he was kind enough to let me into the church restroom. He did say it was against the rules, but really, what are the chances of an 18yo lone female criminal trying to bust into a rural church in the middle of the night? It was far more likely that I truly did have a full bladder, and it was either the church restroom or the shrubbery.

  63. Rick March 18, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Hi Lenore- this article touched a nerve for me because I run an afterschool program, a job I’ve been in for nearly 20 years now. And yes, if that parent had come to our center, I would’ve had to tell them the same exact thing. Our organization (we’re a string of 16 centers run by a rec and park organization) has a policy that outsiders are not allowed to use our restrooms.


    One simple reason- liability. One of your commenters hit the nail on the head when they talked about our “sue-happy” culture. The (very) sad fact is that the policy comes from our insurance company.

    I do my best to be a “free range” director. I don’t make these policies, and there are many rules and regulations with which I personally don’t agree.

    But it goes deeper than that. Because of this “bubble-wrap” mentality, out-of-school-time staff have become more and more infected over the years with this insidious “worst-case scenario” type of thinking. Some examples?

    Recently one of my teachers reported me to my boss for a free range comment I had made. One day, one of our children decided to sneak away from school and not come to the afterschool program. This resourceful 8-year-old made it pretty much clear across our medium-sized town, heading to a friend’s house. We followed our policies when he didn’t show up to our program… parents and police were called, and they tracked him down in pretty short order.

    After the dust had settled, I made a comment to one of our teachers (who I mistakenly figured held similar free-range ideas), saying that, while it was good that we found the boy, I was impressed with the boy’s resourcefulness and that maybe, as a culture, we shouldn’t call up visions of child molesters and abductors every time something doesn’t go as planned.

    The teacher went to my boss, and told her that he didn’t think I was very serious about protecting the children in our care.

    Another policy – kids can’t walk home on their own. Again, liability. How much could we be sued for if a kid breaks their leg or goes missing on the short walk home (we’re a neighborhood school)- even if the parent has given permission? Frustrating to me because the odds that something bad will happen within a two-block walk are pretty astronomical, and then add to that the VERY tiny chance that their parent will pursue legal action (these are parents that we, as a rule, work together with as partners- and we have very good relationships with our parents).

    Here’s a corker- our local Little League uses the fields on our school grounds for practice and games. Can we release the kids to just walk across the field (again on the SAME physical grounds) to practice? Heck no… we require a “responsible adult” to come and sign them out and walk them the 100 yards to practice). And, even better- by policy that “responsible adult” cannot be one of our staff members (even if the parents say it’s ok and we walk them every step of the way).

    Here’s a spot where I’ve rebelled (although quietly)… at one of our “sister centers” (on the grounds of another local school)… they had a kindergartner who fell off the monkey bars while playing in the afterschool program and broke her arm. Immediately, and almost with scary domino-like action, many of the other local centers (including the one in question) banned kindergarteners from the play structures (even though they’re labeled for use by kids 5-12 years of age). No one ever made it an official policy, so my kindergarteners continue to enjoy play time on the play structure.

    My main philosophy in afterschool care is that we exist to facilitate the emotional and social growth of children. And if we’re going to succumb to the bubble-wrap philosophy of raising kids, then our mission is doomed from the start!

    At my center, kids will be allowed to play freely on the play structure, kids will be allowed to wrestle in the grass, and I will make free range choices in every area where they have not already been banned and by the regulating agencies, lawyers and insurance adjusters. And unlike some of my fellow co-workers, I will not succumb to the “worst-first” type of thinking that stunts the social and emotional growth of the next generation.


  64. Uly March 18, 2012 at 12:40 am #

    The older nieces’ school theoretically has the same rule, no kids allowed in the building (except aftercare kids) after the day is over.

    They NEVER enforce this rule. Instead, if you go in begging to use the bathroom, get some water, go up and fetch your bookbag you left behind, they say “Well, just this once…” and let you in, and then about three times a year send home aggrieved notes about how they don’t understand why nobody knows this is a rule, but this time they’re REALLY SERIOUS about enforcing it.

    Which they’re not.

    I’m not sure if the rule is more upsetting or the fact that it’s not really a rule.

  65. skl1 March 18, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    Well, maybe we need the law to be clear that if a child is accompanied by a parent in a reasonably safe facility, then there is no cause of action if the child gets hurt. Is that not the case already? If so, maybe these centers need to be advised (and advise the public) of this fact.

  66. skl1 March 18, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    I was just checking in at a site that ticks me off (procrastinating from work again). It has an article about how some kid from Toddlers and Tiaras is being denied a “real childhood.” I was very tempted to point out that “real childhood” is practically a thing of the past anyway.

    Today my girls’ nanny has them at the park and she keeps sending me photos from her phone of the impressive things they are doing. Just climbing on the equipment, as they have been doing for years. But apparently this is wow stuff, and this is the first time Nanny has allowed them to do such daring things. Ugh, but at least they are getting some exercise!

  67. Christina March 18, 2012 at 1:49 am #

    We were waiting in line at a city run outddoor pool on one of the hottest days last summer. The pool was at capacity when my 5 yr old had to go to the bathroom. I asked if we could come in so he could go (leaving my husband and other son in line) and they said no, they were at capacity. There was another washroom in the park, about 3 blocks away. Seriously? I’m surprised he didn’t pee his pants!

  68. Donna March 18, 2012 at 3:45 am #

    “One simple reason- liability. One of your commenters hit the nail on the head when they talked about our “sue-happy” culture. The (very) sad fact is that the policy comes from our insurance company.”

    This has nothing to do with lawsuits. It has everything to do with the nature of business. The insurance company wants to make as much money as it can. The only way the insurance company is going to make lots of money is if it takes in much more in premiums than it pays out. Therefore, the insurance company is going to decrease it’s potential liability anyway it can.

    What some seem not to understand is that the organization’s insurance IS liable for your injuries if you slip and fall in a bathroom they insure. This is not some fiction created by lawsuits. This is not people being greedy or “sue happy.” It’s simply a basic fact of insurance coverage.

    Most people will simply use their health insurance if they fall in a bathroom because it’s easier for them, but this is not required. The organization’s insurance IS actually 100% liable for the injuries, not your medical insurance, and you are not being “sue happy” or wrong if you file a claim against them (unless you ask for excessive amounts or it was your own stupid fault that you were injured). Your medical insurance is also fully entitled to seek any money it paid from the organization’s insurance.

    You can’t just agree not to sue or agree to waive liability because, by law, the organization’s insurance IS liable. The only way that the insurance company can truly limit this liability is to limit the people with access to the place it insures.

  69. Kristi Lucero March 19, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    This post reminds me of when my first child was born. Before him I had only worked in daycares, so I was very tuned in to rules and regulations. As a result all of our cleaning products and medications are out of reach, stairs to the basement have a lock on them, and pulls for window shades are carefully tucked away every morning. My parents were patient, but I caught eye rolls every now and then.
    After our first son got a little older and we had another, I slowly began to see more clearly, and from the parents perspective. As a parent, you have to be able to trust who you’re letting your children hang out with all day, so you have to use your own judgement and “gut.” Things happen and sometimes that’s sad. But if we only have contracts and not real bonds between us and our children’s “care takers” than who can we lean on when things get sad?

  70. AnotherAnon March 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    @Rick, my cousin fell off monkey bars when he was in kindergarten and broke his arm. This was in 1973. My understanding is that nothing happened to school policy as a result.

    My cousin is now 44 years old, and as far as I know, he has not suffered any lasting adverse effects from his childhood arm fracture.

  71. SGL March 23, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Let the kiddo poop by the field for God’s sake! Find a somewhat private spot, or create one with your body as a shield. Pick up the poop and use a wipe-y to clean up your poor son. Bag it (the poop, the wipe, and maybe the wipe you use on your own hands), trash it elsewhere, and presto-chango, no problem. You can explain to him and any other irritable onlookers that every once in a while, you can go outside “like a bear” (friendly camping phrase we use with our kids). I mean, hell, people walk their dogs all over the place with complete peace of mind.

  72. pentamom March 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Most people who have potty-trained kids don’t carry wipes, let alone bags for cleanup, though.

  73. skl1 March 25, 2012 at 12:12 am #

    Yeah, bag it? I don’t even carry a purse, let alone a baggy. But I agree that squatting in a semi-private square of nature is better than pooping in one’s pants. I’d bury it, though, not bag it.

  74. pentamom March 25, 2012 at 6:04 am #

    Bury it with???? I do carry a purse, but not shovels, or even spoons. 😉

    I’d really be at a loss in such a situation myself. But I’m long past the point of really having to worry about it. Maybe I’ll figure it out for the grandkids. 😉

  75. freerangeteen April 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    As an employee at an afterschool daycare center, I can feel for this employee and this mother. There are so many pointless rules in place it’s ridiculous . One kid in the bathroom at a time. No running games until there are less than thirty kids, no dodgeball, no kickball, no football, no fun. The kids don’t like it and many are there at school from 6 in the morning till 6 at night. Thats a lot of time to sit still or make minute safe movements with only a fifteen minute recess after lunch. (And i refuse to believe that ‘quiet ball’ a game where the kids stand in a circle with their voices off throwing a single foam ball between them is “active”) When I was their age I’d come to my babysitters house after school and jump on a trampoline, play with her dog, draw a picture or just do whatever I wanted. But these kids have every minute from 7:30 AM till 6 PM decicively scheduled. I know I wouldn’t be having fun if I were them, but it’s not as if they have or will listen to one of they’re youngest employees.

  76. Don August 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    You don’t need a bathroom for your kid to poop. Take him behind a tree. Make a “sling” by putting your elbows on your knees. He holds your elbows. You extend your hands out in front of you and hold the back of his knees.

    His butt hangs as the lowest point and he poops. Or she pees/poops.

    I do it all the time with my daughters, aged 2 and 4. 99% of the time its just pee. But its fast, it works well, and I don’t have to take the kid into public restroom.

    I get looks sometimes, but I don’t care.

    Its a real lifesaver on a car trip. No more 15 minute detours, just find a good place to pull off the highway, well off the pavement and sling thekid.


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