Letter: I’m Overprotective…But Going Free-Range

Hi rafytiyrsy
Readers! This is a heartening, even inspiring letter! Read on! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I love my kids and I am overprotective, still, but I agree with giving your kids lots of freedom.  I was able to go play with my friends whenever I wanted as long as I can remember.  In kindergarten all I had to do was let my grandparents (who were watching me) know where I was going to be and I left.  Of course, grandma sometimes said “no,” but mostly in my own world of alotted back yards, I could do as I pleased.

I am so scared of my kids dying, that it is not even funny or merited.  My 6-year-old consistently surprises me in how capable he actually is.  He deserves my trust and I deserve to chill out.  I’ve found that my overprotectiveness hasn’t prevented 22 stitches in the span of less than a year and I find myself yelling and spanking my kids for the sake of safety.  In an effort to protect,  I’ve found myself abusive.

Little by little, I’ve been letting go with no bad consequences.  My 3- and 6-year-old play in the unfenced backyard unscathed.  My 6-year-old happily rides his bike around the park as I push my 3-year-old and baby on the swings.  I’m not even close to letting him ride the subway, but the kids are so much happier and actually better behaved with their new-found freedom.  I only have to whistle and they come running in.

The more parents that do this, the safer our neighborhoods will be, as we will all be looking out for one another. — A Happier Mom

Ah, kids playing. We can let them do this!


40 Responses to Letter: I’m Overprotective…But Going Free-Range

  1. SKL March 31, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    Interesting observation that I’ve also noticed: that kids who have more actual freedoms tend to be better behaved. (Of course, that depends what you mean by behaved, if you’re around overprotective parents.)

    The other day I was in DC with my girls. My oldest (4 but looks 3) is very active and she needed to blow off some steam. She was gleefully running down the sidewalk and back. (She has known not to run into the street since she could walk.) A woman with a cane thought she was about to dash into the street, and she started hollering and banging her cane on the sidewalk – “NO, NO, NO, GO BACK, GO BACK, GO BACK!” Naturally my kid’s smile turned to a terrified frown as she turned around and ran back. We walked to the lady and met her and talked to her. I felt it was a good lesson for my kids. Not everyone knows that they are streetwise, and they needn’t give the neighborhood a collective heart attack! But more importantly, people along the street want to see kids happy and healthy, not hurt.

  2. Allison March 31, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    So good to hear! We had a week of springtime weather (the cold is back this week) and it was so great to see all the kids running around on our cul de sac. My oldest (almost 12) got a new bike so she’s been enjoying the freedom she gets to ride around the local neighborhood! Of course, it would be better if her 14 year old friend was allowed to leave the street on her bike without an adult. Why anyone got her a bike, I don’t know since her parents don’t have bikes and she’s only allowed to ride on our little cul de sac (which is pretty short with only 8 houses).

  3. Marie March 31, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    I am here too. We live on 7 acres with a creek on one side and a local highway on the other, and I have a terrible time letting my 3 year old play in the yard without me being able to see her, even though she knows not to run onto the road or toward the creek (and I’ve never seen her do either). But we are all happier when I’m not freaking out about it and she is so much more self-sufficient than kids we know with hovering parents.

  4. Beth March 31, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    I’m overprotective but trying to change too. It is so hard. My boy is 4 and an only child. I’ve been extremely fearful of something horrible happening to him. He’s way past the SIDS danger but I still check to see if he is breathing at night and get a little worried when he sleeps in and is late getting up. This blog has been a godsend for helping me to let go a little at a time.

  5. EricS March 31, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    Baby steps is better than standing still or going backwards. Glad to hear there some who are starting to realize this. Me and my siblings had pretty much free reign growing up. I guess it’s because we weren’t told “no” all the time, and as long as we did our chores, we were free to come and go as we please, we never felt that we were missing out on anything. Thereby never really rebelled. It’s proven that the more a child is held back or told they can’t do something, the more they’ll want to do it. But when they know they can pretty anytime, they tend to want to do those things less. At least that’s how I felt growing up. I still got in my share of troubles, but in hindsight, it was far less than if I had been sheltered.

    Keep up the good work. And remember, this isn’t about you, it’s about your kids. Your fears shouldn’t be theirs. And your fears shouldn’t control you. Keep thinking of how you are when you relax and how you are when you panic. I think we can all agree which one feels better…for everyone. 😉

  6. Tuppence March 31, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    Parenting under the cloud of fear is stressful and feels like a lot of work. Our society equates lots of work as a good thing, even if it’s stressful. So if parenting feels stressful, and like tons of hard work, that must be a good thing, right?

    The frequent accusation favored nowadays to stop any parent in his or her non-helicoptering tracks — Lazy! — seems to be employed when a parent is suspected of taking an attitude that is any degree less vigilant than that of an attentive nurse in regard to a patient on a intensive care ward. This too encourages the illusion that worry/fear, even panic, must mean good/safe. Or at least, not worrying is bad!

    Luckily, there isn’t a lick of truth in it! By giving the kids a frolic and ourselves a rest, we’re doing the RIGHT thing — Have fun everyone.

  7. Lola March 31, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    Good for you! I only started the FR path when I had my 4th kid, and found myself overwhelmed with stupid, self-imposed worries.
    I clearly remember my turning-point. There’s a park about 100m from my house, where we usually go. My then 6 yo had an imperious need “to go number two’s”, and we had just got there, after many tantrums. I decided to treat her like the young lady I’m always asking her to be, so I gave her my keys to our house, and told her to mind them, and not leave them inside when she came back. And let her go on her own, crossing the street (a cul-de-sac) and everything.
    It turned out she needed some help turning the key in the lock (it can get a bit tricky), but she just asked a passing-by neighbour she knew to help her open it. Which he gladly did, and gave her the keys back.
    I learned quite a few things from this:
    1. I’ll never find out what my kids are capable of if I never give them the chance.
    2. My kids’ll never know what they are capable of if I don’t give them the chance.
    3. I can’t control every little unexpected thing that comes up.
    4. I can trust my kids to think their ways out of “tight spots”
    5. We can trust people around us, because they’re glad to help. Heck, aren’t we all?

  8. Lisa March 31, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    She is so right. Freedom for our kids = courage, confidence, learning, independence, and most important: FUN!

  9. sue April 1, 2011 at 12:11 am #

    @ EricS, you’re right that baby steps are the way to go. You can’t go from being totally overprotective to free range overnight. But by gradually giving our kids a little more freedom as time goes by, we’re helping them to become independent adults. As Dr. Phil likes to say, the goal of parenting is to raise a productive adult. If kids are overprotected their whole lives, it may make us feel good that we’re keeping them “safe,” but it’s detrimental to the child in the long run.

    @ Lola, I really like the 5 things you listed. I have taught my son (age 12) about #5 since he was very young. He skis at the resort that’s about 400 meters from my house with friends (no adult supervision). He knows that if one of his friends gets hurt, the first thing to do is flag down an adult to help him call the ski patrol. When he goes to a ski hill that’s further away and takes the train with friends, sometimes the boys have trouble opening the door on the older train cars. They know to ask someone to help them open the door.

    It’s important that as we give our kids more freedom, we also teach them common sense like not running out in the street or only accepting rides from people that they know. The more that they practice being independent, the more capable they will be when they’re older. Our minds are also more at ease because we realize that our kids are really capable people.

  10. Mika April 1, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    I’m glad I’m not the only one taking bay steps – sometimes I read the comments here and think I’m so behind the curve. I’ve gotten some great ideas though – my 3 year olds now check out library books without me -I do stand nearby…for now!

    My kids have always been taught to be independent at home in terms of chores and playing in the back-yard. We even bought a climbing dome for the back yard that freaks me out whenever they climb, but boy they are getting good at it.

    I do wish sometimes there were more ideas for little ones -but it is good to read stores about 5 and 6 year olds and know where we are heading.

  11. Dean April 1, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    I really like Lola’s list, too. Possibly the most important one, I think, is #2 – that kids have to know they are capable and that they can handle life!

    There are lots of little things we can do, even parents who are fighting the urge to be overprotective. I always have my kids order for themselves in restaurants (also a nice opportunity to practice manners!), for example. Or recently they wanted to have friends come home from school with them, and I asked them both to make the call to the friends’ houses to ask. Of course then I solidified the plans with the other parent, but it was a simple way to empower them to be in charge of themselves and handle their business. When we go out of town, I still get the clothes out, but they are in charge of packing their own toys, animals, books, etc. – whatever they want to bring along. Even little things like this contribute greatly to their feeling empowered and capable.

  12. enyawface April 1, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    Why by 5 I could ride my bike up and down the street, go swimming at the neighborhood pool, by myself (there was a lifeguard always at the pool), play in my yard or the neighbors yard or a friends yard, or if we asked, the school playground 2 blocks away, with a friend but not alone. and at 14, I was taking bike rides across town and back. The world has sure changed in the past 30 years. Too bad, most of the change is only imagined.

  13. Elissa April 1, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    I don’t understand where this fear comes from in the first place. Do you truly believe your neighborhood is that unsafe? Do you see crimes committed before your eyes? Do you have the police on speed dial and know the local officers by name because they are there so much? No? Then what is there to be afraid of?

    I live in metro Phoenix, in an older middle income neighborhood and I go for walks around the neighborhood and never lock my door. I walk around the park that is 2 blocks from my house and just shut the automatic garage door and leave my cell phone and keys at home. What do I think is going to happen? A break in? I’ve never seen that in my neighborhood so why would I think it would happen in the 45 minutes I’m gone?

    At work, when I walk around the block during my lunch breaks, the security guard told me I should carry mace because he can’t see me when I go behind the building. I thanked him for keeping an eye on me but asked him what he thought would happen to me. He said that there were a lot of undesirables in the neighborhood and he didn’t want them to cause me a problem. In all the times I have gone walking, I have been approached once – and the guy asked me what time it was.

    My point is that in order to raise free range kids, we must be free range adults. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the fear – the world is really not that scary once you stop expecting it to be.

  14. sue April 1, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    @ Elissa, very good point about needing to be a free-range adult in order to raise free-range kids. It reminds me of my experience in New York City in 2005, when I visited my brother who lives in Harlem. My husband, who stayed in Germany, told me not to take the subway by myself because I would surely be stabbed, shot, mugged, or even murdered. He also told me not to walk around my brother’s neighborhood by myself because, “Harlem is a dangerous place.” I took the subway by myself to visit various tourist attractions and didn’t worry for one second about something happening to me. As I sat in the subway car, I noticed that half of the riders were fellow women. I walked around Central Park by myself without worrying about getting mugged. I even walked around my brother’s neighborhood to make a trip to the grocery store. I found the New Yorkers that I encountered to be very friendly and helpful. My husband seemed almost surprised that I survived (and enjoyed) my trip to New York.

    I get approached more in my small town in Germany than I ever was in New York City. My city is a summer and winter resort and people stop me when I’m out walking to ask directions. If I’m going to teach my son that other adults will help him if he needs it, I need to set a good example.

  15. Elissa April 1, 2011 at 3:17 am #

    @Sue. I’m so glad you had such a great experience in NYC. I had a similar experience in Europe! I followed my husband to France for 2 weeks while he was there on business. We were in a small city in southern France – St. Ettienne, an hour outside of Lyon. The first day we where there, after my hubby went to his office, I asked took a taxi from my hotel to a museum away from the city center…which turned out to be closed. The cabbie had left me and there I was – in the middle of nowhere and it was starting to rain. Gathered my wits and saw a train station near by. I used my high school french and a phrase book, bought a ticket from the kiosk and got on. I did what everyone else did when I was on the train and decided to take the train from end to end to see the city. Best decision ever. The next two weeks were great as I spent time learning the public transit system in this town and seeing sights. By the time my hubby had a free day, I took him around to my favorite spots and he was amazed at everything I had seen.

    I could have asked the museum staff to call me a cab but because I had confidence in myself and faith in the world, I was able to see a cute city by myself. People were helpful, and kind when I asked for assistance in my embarrassingly sad French.

  16. Jenne April 1, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    “I find myself yelling and spanking my kids for the sake of safety. In an effort to protect, I’ve found myself abusive.”

    Er? Doesn’t that depend on what you are yelling/spanking about?

    in my family, attempts to dart into the road without looking are categorically met with yelling and a potch in tuchus. That’s abusive?

  17. Emiky April 1, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    What a wonderful letter!

    I have a theory about the tendency of independence equaling good behavior. Kids that are taught (or somehow learn) to be reasonably self-sufficient must learn the correct behavior for that independence. Tada, manners!

    As a teacher, I noticed that the better behaved kids were very independent and free-range-esque. The little monsters tended to be on two extremes: those who were allowed to do whatever they want that was “safe”, and those who were mothered over constantly.

  18. EricS April 1, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    @ Elissa: I don’t think their fears come from their area, but more of a mindset. After many years of listening to the radio, reading and watching the news, and people telling you things, people’s minds get reconditioned. And they get to a point that whenever they hear of any bad things, no matter how remote, or rare, that conditioned mind reaffirms itself. Telling the person, they aren’t crazy, and their fears are justified. Now you add more years of that. It’s pretty much becomes a very bad habit, an obsession. As I often say, excessive, no common sense fear is likened to OCD. Even if you wanted to stop you can’t. But like with any obsessive behavior, if your mind can be reconditioned to act out on those impulses, it can be reconditioned to ease up on them as well. One just has to make a conscious and diligent effort to do so.

  19. Ted Burbank April 1, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Could ADHD be on the increase because our children are spending too much time inside with TV and computers? Studies show that with regular independent outdoor play and fun games children are better able to concentrate, reasoning and observational skills improve, powers of observation and creativity increase, are sick less often and bullying is reduced or eliminated (Reference materials available at http://www.365WaysToUnplugYourKids.com). Childhood play is serious business; it’s our children’s equivalent of work.
    Other studies have shown that childhood play assists in developing a child’s: imagination, social skills, self esteem, ability to learn and physical fitness. A California Department of Education study indicates that a child’s regular participation in outdoor activity produces a “measured mastery of science concepts by 27%”.
    Let our kids be kids. Send them out to play and lock the doors until mealtime. That’ what our grandparents did. Should we take a page from their book?

  20. SK April 1, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    I think in some ways I’ve grown in to Free Range and yet I almost always know where my children are, who they are with and what they are doing.

    With my first born 18+ years ago once she started moving we started taking her to the park. We let her climb, play with whatever she herself was able to but we let her do anything on the play structure she wanted to, or dig in the dirt, we were right behind her to catch if she miss judged. Then the 2nd one came along. What I saw was our oldest had the confidence to know her abilities and she took over teaching her brother. She told us to go away leave them be they where fine. What did I do as a parent? Let them play hovering near by. Then the 3rd, and 4th came along… I No longer hovered but watched happily from the bench or the tree only responding when one of my children called for me, when they wanted help I’d tell them to try first and take my time, typically by the time I got myself over to help they’d figured it out on their own. Now number 5…. A mom asked me today how I could handle bringing three kids to the park, then remarked they must be older kids as she pointed to a group of 13 or 14 year olds. I smiled and pointed to my 5 year old as she ran by with a group of other kids ranging from her to about 9. Pointed out my 9 year old way over by the tire swing happily spinning with another girl, and my middle girl wandering down the path away from me. She was horrified that I was allowing my children to play with people we didn’t know and not with each other. She stopped talking to me and went back to hovering over her 6 year old and telling her she wasn’t ready to climb that chain ladder, to be careful on the slide and that no she couldn’t dig for worms and to get out of the dirt. Sigh…

    My children came home muddy, laughing and with a bucket of worms. So that they could create a compost bin. I figure in a few weeks when they’ve forgotten about it I’ll toss the worms out in to the garden.

  21. Melanie April 1, 2011 at 8:15 am #


    Here are some ideas that might help for your little ones – these are some things I’ve done with my three, nearly four year old, for quite some time.

    The main thing for me is to let him try something and think that he’s doing it on his own. I may be watching him more carefully than I would with my seven year old. And I may be ready to intervene if it’s a little too much for him – but he doesn’t know that.

    Every time you give your little one a chance to do something and it works out just fine you’ll find yourself letting go just a little. Remember, being vigilant about your kids safety doesn’t have to mean intervening. If you hang back one or two extra seconds you’ll start to get a better perspective about what needs your help and what doesn’t.

    So, here are some things I’ve done with my little one.

    1. From the time he could walk if we were in a safe outdoor area (park, open strip mall etc), I would let him go. I had mental boundaries beyond which it wasn’t safe ie. close enough to traffic that I wouldn’t be able to get to him first. But inside that space he could pretty much do what he wanted. He used to fall over, a LOT. But rather than rush to pick him up I’d sit and wait. Nearly every time he’d pick himself up and keep going. Sometimes he might whimper but then pick himself up and keep going. We all know what it sounds like when our kids have REALLY hurt themselves. Short of that I didn’t intervene. Often older ladies would look around to see why no one was tending the angelic little toddler who’d just fallen over. I’d smile and wave and say “He bounces. Watch”. And every time he’d be back up and moving again.

    Letting your little ones fall over is a great way to start. They learn to judge not only their own skills, but also whether they’re actually hurt. Emotional regulation is one of the most important things any parent can teach their kids, and I firmly believe it contributes to it.

    2. Asking for things in cafe and restaurants. Since he was about three I’ve encouraged my son to ask for things in restaurants – a paper bag to take his food away in, a straw, a glass for water. They can’t always understand him and I might have to translate, but he’s learning how to confidently ask for help.

    3. Helping in the kitchen. From the age of 2 or 3 my little one has helped his dad in the kitchen. Initially just with pouring things into bowls, or juicing fruit or mixing, or using the pasta machine, but now, at the age of nearly four he can peel carrots and potatoes and I honestly think he’s almost ready to start using the knives (under close supervision) in food preparation.

    4. Swimming lessons, or lots of experience in the water. Because his older brother has done swimming lessons for a few years, the little one has been going into the pool with me since he was about a year old. It never occurred to him to be afraid of water, which is half the battle when you want to teach them to swim. He started swimming lessons in the middle of last year just after he turned three. He can now confidently swim about three or four metres and I can let him play in water above his head under supervision. He can also jump off the springboard into the diving pool and swim to the edge. People often do a double take to see a tiny three year old leaping off the end of the board.

    That’s all I can think of for now, and I’ve gone on way too long, but I hope it helps.


  22. Dave April 1, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Little victories will have a rippling effect. Its how we change society. This is an encouraging and important letter.

  23. bequirox April 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    @ Mika, my daughter is 2.5. A couple other ideas I have are:

    Let them pick their own outfits.
    Let them brush and floss their own teeth. (My pediatrician says they don’t really even need their teeth brushed til they’re 3.)
    If they have a younger sibling, let them push the stroller.
    They can help bag groceries, and carry lighter bags into the house.
    They really can help with LOTS of things, and they LIKE doing it. If you need something from the other room, or something taken to the garbage, give it to the little kid.
    Let them help load/unload the dishwasher.
    When I take out the trash, my daughter carries out the lighter recycling can.
    She’s learning to make a sandwich.
    Let them play outside by themselves.
    Encourage them to say “Hello” to strangers. i.e. Today, my daughter was playing in the yard, when an older woman walked by with a wagon. DD started hollering, “Hi! How are you?! I’m Sarah! I’m glad to meet you!” I LOVE it that she’s not scared of strangers. Because I encourage her to talk to people, (especially old people) she is the only great grand kid who will talk to my grandpa.
    If you’re doing things for your kid, see if they can do it on their own. Like putting on or taking off shoes/clothes, brushing their hair, buckling their car seat, etc.

    And on a side note, today was above 60 degrees for the first time this year. We went to our park at 8 o’clock p.m., when it was starting to get dark. Toddler pushed her baby sister in the stroller most of the way there. When we arrived, there were between 20-30 kids there, and 2 adults. And the adults were there with their 1.5 year-old, who couldn’t exactly go by herself. The kids ranged in age from 3-16 or so, and the older kids helped the younger kids. There was a group of teenagers on a hill, just watching everyone and tickling each other, and laughing. When it got dark, everyone went home. No cell phones. We brought our dog, and TONS of kids came to talk to us and pet her. Man, I love my neighborhood!

  24. sue April 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    @TedBurbank, I’ve also read many studies that correlate the lack of play with ADHD. It’s interesting that here in Germany I never hear about kids having ADHD. Preschool is mostly free play time with just a few organized activities. In elementary school the kids get a 25-minute recess break as part of their 4-hour school day. Even in secondary school, there are breaks after every second class plus a 45-minute lunch break for kids who have afternoon classes.

    Kids here are very free-range. They start walking to school in 1st grade and using public transportation (bus, train) on their own in 5th. In 4th grade kids can ride their bikes to school without adult supervision. Part of the 4th grade curriculum is bike safety, which includes a practical and written test. The schools also reinforce the free-range philosophy. While preschools require that children be picked up by a parent or other designated person, once kids get into 1st grade they can go home on their own.

    I also agree with some of the above posters about having your kids start doing little things to become more free-range. Even letting them walk a few steps ahead of you in public is a good start. Give your kids money and let them pay for a drink at the store. Let them pick out their own clothing for the day, whether it matches or not. Sit on a bench at the park and let your kids play on whatever they want to. They’ll fall, but they’ll also get back up and learn their limits better than if you forbade them from doing something. Let your kids get dirty. Soap and water will get both kids and clothing clean.

  25. Tuppence April 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    @Sue — your husband stayed home in Germany, but he’s not German, is he? I guess this because you said he was worried about you going to Harlem.

    When I used to give bicycle tours of Central Park, back in the 1990s, if Germans were on the tour, at the end tour, they would INEVITABLY ask which subway train they should take to go to Harlem (and we’re talking the early to mid 90s here, before gentrification really got going there). Every. single. time.

    I was so charmed by this. (And at that point if you’d told me I’d end up marrying a German and living here, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have believed you.) I hadn’t thought about it until the German tourists made me — Harlem is legend. And the German tourists hadn’t paid the money and spend the time to fly all the way to NYC and miss it! Apparently, it never occurred to them to be frightened. Never once asked by them “and is it safe?”, no, just wanted to know which train they should take. Their whole attitude was, to sum it up – cool.

    Although not all the Americans on the tour were there because they were scared to go through Central Park alone, a lot were. And the idea of heading up to Harlem?? A no-brainer if there ever was one: No freakin way. The American’s fear-fog kept them from seeing the woods for the trees: And recognizing a national treasure just a subway ride away.

    But, as you write, Germans have a free-range childhood (are they anti TV – esp. for children, but also adults – here, or what??), so they’re less fearful adults. Whaddyaknow. Looks like that’s the way it works, after all.

  26. Amy - Parenting Gone Mad April 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Oh my! You have literally just voiced my fears. I worry about death all the time too! I mean, I don’t mull over it but it kind of just sits at the tip of my mind.

    My daughter is too young for all this yet but when the time comes, I hope I have the courage to let go and provide the independence I so wish to give.

    Thanks you for your letter! Great inspiration!

  27. sue April 1, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    @Tuppence, My husband and I are both American expats living in Germany. He still has it in his head that New York is like it was in the ’70s or on a “Law and Order” or “CSI” episode. The area in Harlem where my brother lives has been gentrified and is quite nice.

    My son was born in Germany and has been raised more by free-range German norms than US fear-based ones. He had a culture clash last summer, when he was playing with his German and American friends on the US military base where I work. He and the other boys were playing Pine Cone Wars, which is what the name implies (forming teams and throwing pine cones at each other). An American boy who was new to the community, and about the age of the other kids, approached them and said that they shouldn’t play Pine Cone Wars because it was dangerous and somebody could get hurt. When my son came home and told me about it, he was incredulous that someone would think that the game that he had played for several years was dangerous. He told me that nobody had gotten hurt except for some minor scratches from the pine cones.

  28. Douglas John Bowen April 1, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    Any and all parents here angsting over whether they’re taking “baby steps” or are “behind the curve”: I admire you all; you’re far braver than some of us (certainly braver than I am) in *acknowledging* your fears and still trying to be more Free-Range. It’s a reality check for me, a reminder that maybe I sometimes have anxiety and doubts myself even as I pursue a Free-Range agenda, doubt I’m not admitting to myself. (I’m vain enough to think that’s not the case, but what if it is?) In any case, none of us is perfect, but you all are trying hard. Kudos to you, and to your kids.

  29. Tuppence April 1, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    Sue, it’s embarrassing to admit it now, but in my first years in Germany a great deal of time was spent moaning about how they got everything wrong here and, more or less, how much better we do everything back in the good ol USofA. Maybe it was just a matter of time? But I think my change in attitude happened after my daughter was born. Germans do childhood right!

    I was able to get a taste of what it might have been like back home, because when she was 2 – 5 my daughter went to a bilingual nursery/kindergarten English and German.

    Well, as that preschool itself likes to say — it’s not just about the English language, it’s the cultural, too: I’m sure they meant stuff like nursery rhymes when they thought that up, not helicoptering, necessarily. Ya’d think being in a foreign country, noticing the lack of panic here, would put a dent in the armor, but nope, the Anglo-fear culture was very prominent amongst the parents there.

    The classic: Mother telling her child not to run in the playground, could be overheard at that place. No pix of the kids for the website – predators! There was even a long-winded parents’ evening discussion about what dangers mulching the playground might bring — dirt, worms! Not kidding. A vocal group of parents were pushing for early academics, and OF COURSE, the English teacher could almost never “find the time” to get the children outside. (Here is where a lot of the German born parents finally put their foot down – although the promise of three days a week there, lags way behind the standard at a normal German Kiga, i.e., every day).

    Thankfully, since it was bi-lingual (and bi-cultural!), the German teacher would insist on outdoor play and in general pushed for movement and free play rather than “learning”. The kids loved the German teacher. The English teacher didn’t. There was a power struggle, and the Eng. teacher won. That German teacher has been replaced with one who’s “down with the program”. Too bad for the kids.

    For different reasons (nothing to do with not liking the bi-lingual kindergarten, she was fine there, too), my daughter spent the year before she started school in a regular German Kindergarten. Needless, to say, things there were – to my mind – how they should be.

  30. Tammy April 1, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    I truly love this blog and the book and the whole f.r. awakening!
    Every single comment in reply to the letter from A Happier Mom made me smile and nod….so much more encouraging than the political and economic news.
    I’ve always tried to not hover, sometimes I fail, more often, though, I think it works out alright (I should tell you I have 6 children aged 23 on down to 3~when I was younger I was more free-wheeling naturally, and Carly was always swinging from the tree tops and climbing silos, somewhere in the middle I became a little un-fun and uptight, and now I am learning to be a better mommy again!) One incident that has become my touchstone when I feel a ‘no, you can’t do that’ coming on, is a time about 5 years ago when my now 7y/o son was in the hot tube with me, he lost his balance and slipped underwater all the way, right next to me. He popped up right away, all wide-eyed and spluttering, and I said ‘wow, look at how great you did getting yourself up’. Of course, I was freaked out inside but kept my face calm and voice relaxed, knowing that he’d take my cue…..he wasn’t in any real danger, and had I gone into all ‘ hover-mom my poor baby mode’, he’d have become afraid of the water. This sort of thing happens all the time, the kids look to your face to see your reaction, and by schooling your features to remain calm , you can really help them develop a good attitude about many things…..I am thinking here of exploring things outside, getting muddy, touching bugs or the like. I’m helping my husband to be more free-range (I’d already been married before and brought children to our marriage, so he’s kind of a newbie with the last two!)-where he’d encouraged our son to get dirty and stomp in the mud, he’d ask Maddie to stay out of the mud, that sort of thing, so I need to remind him that she needs to explore the earth, too……….
    and always remember, the world is full of wonderful, unscary people who never make the news……

  31. SKL April 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    For me, I’ve always believed in free range, but I have been very skittish about kids around water – at least, water deep enough to drown in. Well, my kids cured me of that. I put them in swimming lessons when they were 3.5, and starting last fall, I started taking them to the rec center’s pool most Thursdays. I would encourage (not push) the girls to be brave in the water, but I never encouraged them to hop in the deep water without me nearby. My youngest daughter (around her 4th b’day) took care of that on her own. She could only swim a few feet if that, but it was far enough that when she leaped into the deeper water, she could get herself to the spot where she coud keep her head above water. After that, I stopped hovering around her at the pool, and she’s free to play in most of it. The older (shorter, more skittish) 4yo has also recently gotten over her fear of jumping into the deep water and swimming to the side, with me nearby just in case. She’s a stronger swimmer than her sister and I think she’ll end up being more “free range” in the pool before long.

    It’s funny to think that less than a year ago, I would have felt very nervous just letting my kids walk along poolside. I myself didn’t learn to swim until I was at least 8, because we went as kids to the public pools and 8 was the youngest you could go without a parent. At that point, we kids taught each other just enough to keep ourselves from drowning.

    My kids love going to the pool so much, and it’s such good exercise for them. I just never thought of it as a regular activity for preschoolers before last year.

  32. Elisabeth April 2, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    I think the comment about her over-protectiveness had led to abusiveness is really interesting.

    there is a strong connection between fear and anger — and i’ve seen in myself that when my kids scare me, i go crazy angry. I once yelled at my daughter like a maniac when she was 3 and dashed in front of a moving car in a parking lot. Even as i was yelling i remember thinking “this is hardly productive” and it wasn’t. Of course, in this case, my fear was legit and while my angry outburst was not, i can see how the more and more we are told that the world is scary and baby-eating-child-molesting-kidnappers lurk in every corner waiting to attack, and that if we lose control or sight of our children for a NANOsecond we are horrible parents, well — maybe the more and more we feel like we don’t have control and are likely to lose it with/on our kids when they push against ridiculous boundaries that interfere with their ability to be – yeah – just kids.

  33. Jahn Ghalt April 2, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    As for running into streets, and other imminent dangers I was personally heartened with my own youngsters – because our preemptive voice commands were quite effective. Of course, they were not effective at all if not timely – part of the risk of living in the world.

    As for “abusive” yelling and spanking, I think a parent abuses his obligations to his children if he fails to yell and spank at the right times.

  34. JeneeLyn April 2, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    I have mentioned before the disagreements that my (formerly free range) mom and I have about what is and is not safe behavior for my kids. The other day she was over. We were inside, my 6 year old daughter was outside. We live on a quiet residential street. The kids play in our unfenced yard, ride their bikes in the street (the only place TO ride) and cross the street to their friend’s house daily. When my mom looked out the window and saw that my daughter had crossed the street, she was horrified. “Did you know she just crossed the street without asking?” she asks. “Yes, mom. She is allowed to cross the street to see her friend” I reply. “Well, I guess I just watch too much T.V. but I don’t think that’s safe” she says. My reply? “Yes! You do watch too much T.V.!” We live in a rural Oklahoma town where there have been 2 murders, in the past 20 years. Both commited by friends/family of the victim, not random psychos on a killing spree. I’ve never heard of a breaking and entering or kidnapping. Ever. So until I’m given reason to think otherwise, I will not assume my children are in immintent danger every time they leave my side. I’ll let them play and we’ll all keep our sanity.

  35. Nanci April 3, 2011 at 2:31 am #

    My kids have picked up on the fact that I allow them to do a lot more than their friends parents allow. I’ve never said anything about trust, but that is how they interpret it. When a friend is not allowed to do something, my kids will ask why their parents don’t trust them. The more my kids feel that I trust them the more they want to earn my trust. It’s like the higher I set the bar the higher they reach. They are very proud of themselves for what they accomplish on their own.

  36. tdr April 5, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    I think it is totally normal for parents to have catastrophic and unreasonable fears about your kids — “who will I grab first in the event of a fire?” “how will I get my kids out of hte car if we go over the side of a bridge?” “what if one of my kids gets cancer?” etc.

    I doubt there is a parent around who hasn’t thought of these things occasionally.

    But when it influences your life unduly, and imprisons you and/or your children and has perhaps made you into an abuser…it is now a PATHOLOGY.

    And if you cannot shake those fears, you should seek professional help.

    Kudos to the woman who wrote this letter that she recognizes the problem is hers!

  37. GAD April 15, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    Even though my parents were overprotective by the standards of the time, I still had lots of freedom as a kid in the 70s and 80s to play unsupervised. I think that was very good for me.

    Somehow over the years I developed a severe anxiety disorder regarding harm coming to my family members. Now I’m scared to death of having kids myself. I don’t think I can handle it.

    It doesnt help that it is considered “normal’ to have these fears as a parent. I know it’s not normal. It’s a mental disorder and it feels terrible. I know I’d be a good parent but just don’t want to suffer that anxiety for the rest of my life.

  38. Glenda May 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    I totally agree that it is normal to parents to feel worried for their kids. But it is not also good to always
    feel or think that their might gonna happen to our kids.
    We shouldn’t have that kind of intellect because it’s not
    healthy . As a mother of 3 kids, I don’t have that kind of
    thinking. I learned from my parents of how to trust in God that He will guide my kids every minute and every
    hour and everyday of their lives.
    My kids knows every rules and what’s not good for them.

  39. Laura May 27, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    Free Range Success… While walking home from a local Italian Ice shop, we let our 6 year old go through the park while wen went around the outside. We thought we would meet on the edge of the park, however, when we got there, the kid was no where to be seen. Okay… don’t freak out… Dad went back to the park and I went home. He was sitting on the sidewalk with a big grin because he beat us home. So, the biggest lesson on that one was to be more specific on where we would meet. And the lesson was more for the adults than it was for the kid.


  1. Sunday Surf, April 2, 2011 - April 3, 2011

    […] Letter: I’m Overprotective…But Going Free-Range […]