When My Daughter Didn’t Want to Hold My Hand Anymore

Hey edtedirbke
Readers — Just a little note about how kids surprise us all the time, when we let them. – L.
Dear Lenore: Just heard you on the CBC (Canada’s NPR). Here’s my anecdote of awareness:
Concerned for my Grade 6 (age 11) daughter’s safety, I insisted on her holding my hand to cross any street.  At the same time, I arranged for her to participate in a class trip to Japan, where 10 girls from her school would spend two weeks. Each pair of girls was billeted with two families for 5-day periods.  When she returned, the increase in her maturity was immediately evident — I still get chills remembering the love and pride I felt at realizing she had gained so much from a trip that  some parents had predicted would be a waste..
Shortly after Devon’s return, I reached for her hand to cross the street.  “Dad,” she said, “you know in Japan …” and it turned out that getting to the school involved a two-hour trip, including a walk through several city blocks, a subway and a train — all on the girls’ own.  I knew in that moment that my daughter had everything she needed to make her own way in life — if I just got out of the way.  Yes, there were some moments to come, with guidance and protection needed. But in the end, my partner and I, along with her mother, have raised an amazing young woman who gives back now, at age 27,  through work with special needs kids — helping them build confidence in their own abilities to navigate the world.
Keep up the common sense voice! – John James O’Brien
John — I see a direct line from the joy you felt in your daughter’s independence to the joy she gets helping her students gain theirs. Please tell her hello from us at Free-Range Kids! – L
Cool fact: In Japan, kids 6-12 ride transit half price. No adult required.

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24 Responses to When My Daughter Didn’t Want to Hold My Hand Anymore

  1. Warren March 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    They will tell you when they are ready. You do not need to be a psychic to figure it out. Kids will show you or downright tell you they are ready to do whatever.

    Nice piece from this dad.

  2. K March 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    What a contrast to today’s article in Huffington Post – asking if seven or eight is too young for a boy to be allowed to use the men’s room. Shouldn’t we still make them come into the women’s with us?

    At this rate, the boys will have facial hair before they get to use the men’s.

  3. steve March 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Great story.

    John, the only thing that would make your story even better would be to give us more details, more things to shock helicopter parents and school principals.

  4. Bose in St. Peter MN March 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    my daughter had everything she needed to make her own way in life — if I just got out of the way

    quote context: http://qote.me/yCBUI6


  5. Linda Wightman March 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    I’m thrilled for this dad and his daughter. But is anyone else shocked that he was holding her hand to cross the street at age 11? I’m even more impressed that he allowed her to go to Japan at that age if he thought she couldn’t be trusted to cross the street.

  6. Jenn March 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    How do I send my kids to Japan for a trip like that? What an incredible opportunity! On a side note my 14 year old daughter still openly holds my hand in places like the mall! But I don’t make her, she just apparently still likes me…I wake up wondering if everyday is the last 😉

  7. Heather March 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    Wasn’t someone asking for more stories of awesome kids recently?

    Came across this story of a 10 year old who saved a cat from being abused. I thought that person might like it…



  8. Emily March 20, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    I agree with Linda Wightman. My parents were overprotective, but I was at least allowed to cross the street by myself long before I was 11.

  9. WendyW March 20, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    When I was 13 I spent the summer in Japan on the military base where my dad was stationed. I remember watching the Japanese kids on their way home from school when we were shopping off-base. From the elem.-age on up, the kids stepped into the road with one hand in the air (for visibility? or the usual signal for stop?) and the cars STOPPED and let the cross. Busy urban traffic, but there was no-one wringing hands and obsessing over the kids, much less insisting on hand-holding. I’m not the least bit surprised that a visit there opened the girl’s eyes on that issue! Kudos to her dad for listening to her.

  10. hineata March 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Laughed at this one, because often in our family it’s me who gets told I have to hold hands – leftovers of growing up in a really dead little town, almost no traffic, and being a klutz by nature. The kids get sick of waiting for me to decide the traffic is slow enough to tackle, and will take me over themselves, LOL!

    With you too, Linda – I was a little surprised with a kid that age still being made to hold hands crossing the road. Different if they are the cuddly types – my 13 year old still likes to hold hands at the mall etc.

  11. Taradlion March 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm #


    My daughter (11) will sometimes hold my hand. She and her friends often walk with their arms looped… But, she also takes the subway (NYC) on her own. There is a difference between affection and (over) protection.

    Really though, I do think independence and doing things on their own builds “readiness” and competence. Even as an adult I may not pay attention to directions, or how something is done if someone else is driving/leading the way/taking the lead, unless I know I will need to do it on my own. I think my GPS keeps me from learning the way around places I drive (but don’t live) fairly frequently.

  12. Andrea March 20, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    Yeah, I’m a little stunned by the idea of an 11 year old holding hands to cross the street. My son has been fine not holding hands across streets and in parking lots since 4 or 5. He’s almost 7 now. He’ll hold my hand occasionally, but only because he’s in a mommy mood.

  13. Peter March 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    I’ll add another vote to the “11 year-old holding dad’s hand to cross the street.”

    What’s interesting is that she thought this was normal–after all, Dad wouldn’t steer her wrong. So if Dad says that she needs to hold his hand, she needs to hold his hand. It took a 5000 mile plane flight to convince her that Dad was wrong.

    I’m glad to see that Dad was so open. It’s kind of sad that he wasn’t so open, say, five years earlier.

  14. Dee March 20, 2013 at 10:29 pm #

    This is great! My son is also 11 and very clingy. I’m planning to send him to sleep away camp this summer for 3 weeks and am hoping for some big changes in him!

  15. Emily March 21, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I was never a “clingy” person, even as a kid–I stopped wanting to hold hands, etc., with my parents when I was six or seven, I stopped wanting to hug family members when I was around thirteen, and I never got homesick at summer camp, etc. I’ve also always preferred to do things for myself than have them done for me. Needless to say, growing up with overprotective parents was a challenge for me, because of my personality, and who knows, maybe it even contributed to my personality.

    Anyway, here’s the embarrassing part–if my hypothetical, future child ends up being the “clingy” type, who doesn’t want to be left alone at school or day camp, or play independently at the park, or tries to hang off me all day, then I really don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably love him or her anyway, but I’d hope that my hypothetical, future husband is more equipped to deal with clinginess than I am. I’d try to raise my kid to be independent, but I know that that doesn’t always work out–for example, my dad tried to raise me to be a golfer, but I absolutely hated golf, and the day I was allowed to quit playing golf (at fourteen, when I’d started at six) was probably the most liberating day of my youth. So, I’m as ill-equipped to deal with a clingy child as my dad was in dealing with a non-golfer.

  16. steve March 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    I came back today and read some of the comments and thought, “How did I miss the part about this girl being 11? I must have skimmed it and taken the “6” to be her age and been blind to the word “grade.” Huge mistake on my part. So, while I’m delighted to know this father learned a good lesson, I’m really sorry it took so long. Ahhh, but we all “live and learn.”

    This reminds me of a parent who commented on this blog a long time ago, who said she always insisted on holding her very young daughter’s hand because the child so fidgety. Then one day she couldn’t for some reason, and told the child she was on her own this time and to be careful. The little girl was extremely cautious and performed admirably! All it took was some teaching followed by trust.

  17. Jenna K. March 21, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    @Emily…I have always been the same way, I’m not a very affectionate person, that’s just how I am. It really annoys my husband too. But I have a daughter who IS extremely affectionate and always wants to cuddle, hold my hand, give kisses and hugs, etc. Sometimes it does drive me crazy, but I have found that I am a little more affectionate with my own kids than I am with anyone else. Not sure if it’s the “mother” in me or what. I do draw the line and sometimes I have to tell her that I need my personal space right now. Just wanted to reassure you that it will probably turn out okay if you have an extremely affectionate (“clingy”) child.

  18. Katie March 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    @Linda, Yes I had that reaction too. Even with what in my child hood was considered an overprotective mom at age 11 I walked home from the school bus stop by myself and my friend’s sisters daughter goes to the mall by herself in Israel which is not even as safe a place as the US.

  19. Katie March 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    PS But I am glad the parents at least saw the light in the end.

  20. Stacey March 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    I couldn’t imagine holding anyone’s hand at age 11. In the 6th grade we were responsible for taking care of the little kids in the elementary school, i.e. lining them up and bringing them to class, act as crossing guards on the road near the school. Obviously other countries such as Japan have not infantilized their kids nearly to the extent we have. Sad that kids must travel so far to go back to a time when they were expected to take care of themselves.

  21. Earth.W March 23, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    If we raised our kids like we raise special needs children, they would be independent and ready to face the world.

  22. Amanda-Beth March 25, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    I was never hand holding. type to point I bit my mother 3 times at 15 months old once I even decided to hide in clothes raxk. I didn’t get hurt and I was toddler. However for my lack of liking things and mother needing to have idea of where I was used a wrist leash it was better then her squeezing hand grip. I know it squeezed cuase as soon as next in line sis was verbal enough she saod it hurts to hold mommy hand and always asked to hold mine or cousins hand instead. Dad had known he had to active girls who clearly weren’t touchy type so when he took us to mall we had this little cleared out lower area thag few steps down could go into it he’d let us run it out for half hour he never asked us to hold hands we stayed with him because we knew what to do he made it clear and simple and as of about age 5 if we wanted to stay in store or arcade for little while by ourselves he told us were he was going and how to find him. We were smart we knew what to do daddy didn’t worry.

    I taught three of my siblings to cross the street ok I admit it reason I taight sister after next is she was clingy I neex some me space I know why cause brother was not much younger then her and she was with me a lot from early age but still. I need room t breath. I started teaching brothers around age 4 frankly I didn’t finish teaching youngest brother because I was adult at that time and working n own life. Older of youngest brother by age 6 new how to cross the street with out help of course I watched out window for safety. But that was parniod oldest sister mentality if you have more then 3 kids and your oldest is daughter you notice she can be bit mother henish its not on purpose its just part of the role in their postion. It took a little longer with sister as frankly she didn’t want to let go. But I did get her to at 8. Frankly they all held my hand at corner so I knew they were paying atetion and though at first we crossed together during the actual crossing the street I let their hands go yes I had to pry a few sister off a few times. At age 5 do to mother not wanting to dress next in line sis heck she did it when I was 4 and she was pregnant with her and didt feel like walking she’d pin a note to me. And hand me money to go up hill to gas station to get her smokes or each if us pop or sometimes a a lunch from their. The note was only pined so I didn’t loose it and so cashier knew what ciggarettes as no matter how hard I tried the name marble cigarettes always came out wrong. I had fav cashier he was nice man. He always talked to me like I was no different them him and looked me in eye he during mother’s prgancy sence he talked to me he knew what I knew cuase told him how babies were doing unfortunately 1 didn’t make it after bkrth but moving on he’d ask me once she was born how sissy was doing when I start school. Not only that on my 5 th bday he had.bought me a big cupcake. And had ppl in store sing to me. Sissy was born April 90 I was born nov 85. He knew daddy always gave me money to spend on bday and he knew id at least stop in for candy bar.

    Kids can do pretty well from early age as long as they know how to keep self safe and our pretty verbal if I.ever adopt I can’t birth children I will probably be more relaxed then I was with sibs especially during time I cared for 3 of them.

  23. Steve March 27, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Photos of kids around the world – going to school …


  24. stuttgart March 30, 2013 at 2:47 am #

    In Germany, we don’t have school buses. We had to take 2 buses and a streetcar to get to school (free for us students). Alone. From the age of 6. When my mom married an American and I started attending the American military schools in Germany, I couldn’t believe how much we were babied every step of the way to and from school. We had a seating chart on the school bus, bus monitors, teachers meeting us as we got off the bus, teachers taking us back to the bus at the end of the day. It was crazy! Oh, and we could get the bus drivers in trouble when they yelled at us to be quiet. I remember that. So different from German public transportation. If someone didn’t behave on public transportation, the bus drivers would pull over and kick them off. The youngest kids I saw this happen to were about 8-10 years old. We were next to a wheat field in the middle of nowhere at dusk, but the bus driver had had it with them.

    Back when I was 19, I remember watching a group of really young children gathering at the streetcar stop on their way to school. I was across the street waiting for the military shuttle bus to take me to base. The woman standing with me (American military wife) was horrified. This was 12 years ago, but I still remember her saying, “Where are their parents?! Are they getting on the train alone?!” lol