I love the sight of elementary school kids roaming the neighborhood together. Seriously, is there anything cuter? This is what I remember childhood being all about. Bouncing from house to house, impromptu kickball games, building a fort in someone’s backyard. Kids still do that, right?
I am in love with the concept of free-range parenting. Kids learn just as much from being with each other as they do from being with adults and probably more. A little freedom gives them space to discover new skills and talents, to build independence and self-reliance, to learn critical social skills, so much more. It all sounds so good. When parents are around we have a hard time butting out and letting kids figure things out on their own. But how do we let our kids roam free without giving them more freedom than they can safely handle? How do we figure out where the limit should be, based on our child and not on media hype?
Over the past year, Zippy has become more and more interested in hanging out with other kids. He still loves momma and daddy time, but if there is a kid nearby it’s See ya later, alligators! With the warmer weather, the neighborhood kids are starting to show their sweet little faces outside and there is a band of ready playmates. A few weeks ago we let Zippy and a friend ride “the loop” around the neighborhood and out of our sight. They were only gone for a few minutes, but Zippy returned with stories of serious adventures. We heard about it for days! Zippy had tasted Big Freedom and he could not wait for more.
I would love to let Zip ride off with his buddies. I mean, how nice will it be when I can say “Sure, go play with your friend. I’ll call you at dinner time,” instead of following him around everywhere? We are blessed to live in a quiet “country” development with plenty of young kids (13, at last count) on our block alone. Zippy is 5 1/2. So is it reasonable to let him roam with other kids, who range in age from 6 to 11? I’m pretty sure I was roaming at that age. I have vivid memories of riding my bike to my best friend’s house on the corner and watching him eat worms.
I decided I’d do what I told parents of teenage clients to do, back when I was in private practice. Set some rules and see how your child responds. Before giving more freedom, make sure your child is responsible and mature enough to handle the freedom he already has. And if your child shows he can’t handle the freedom given by following the expectations that come with it, it makes sense to tighten the reigns (and most kids will recognize the fairness of this).
We gave Zip three basic “safety” rules: No riding in the street. Stay on our side of the street unless an adult helps you cross. Don’t go past A’s house (i.e., to The Rocks) unless Momma or Daddy says it’s okay first. Zip’s all-time favorite destination is The Rocks. The Rocks is a
dead-end where a new street will eventually be built, but for now it’s
full of tall grass and old boards and, you guessed it, rocks! It is
around the corner at the end of the block, just out of sight from my
Unfortunately, we soon realized Zippy is not quite ready to handle the freedom
that he wants and that Hubby and I would love to give him. He gets so excited and involved in playing that having fun outweighs following the rules. I realize it is hard when his rules are a little stricter than the ones some of his “older” friends (7 and 8) have to follow. Monday afternoon I let him ride bikes with a friend, but within 20 minutes he had broken every single rule. Big fat bummer. So for now, he has to stay within eye sight. In a few weeks we’ll try again.
This morning Zip rang a neighbor’s door and invited his friend down to The Rocks. I followed a short distance behind, then sat on the curb and tried not to interrupt as I watched them play. More kids showed up. I overheard talk about a club and plans to build a fort out of the old boards. Seriously, is there anything cuter?
Do you or will you let your kid roam? How did you decide he or she was ready?