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Are You a Free Range Parent?

More Top Expert Videos on Parenting Styles

Free Range is not just a term for your egg carton anymore. In a quest to raise self-sufficient, successful children, many parents are choosing to veer away from “helicopter parenting” and focus on Free Range parenting instead. An idea first popularized by pediatrician Benjamin Spock, Free Range parenting is centered on encouraging children to function as independently as possible, in accordance with their developmental stage. Many parents who grew up in the 70s, 80s, or earlier have memories of walking to school alone or playing with friends around the neighborhood without parental supervision. With only a gentle reminder to be home in time for dinner, allowing your child hours of unsupervised play didn’t use to seem like irresponsible parenting. Free Range parenting is a conceptualized return to this old mode of parenting, one that allowed kids to learn without persistent surveillance from adults. Advocates for Free Range parenting and other similar parenting styles believe that stepping back and allowing kids to do more activities on their own produces independent children and contributes to their self-esteem as adults.


Establishing Self-Reliance

Dr. Alanna Levine, MD and Kids in the House parenting expert, discusses techniques that can be applied to free-range parenting in her book, Raising a Self-Reliant Child. In the beginning stage of life, babies need their parents to soothe them to sleep and feed them all of their meals, yet as they get older, Levine suggests gradually encouraging them to do these tasks on their own. You can begin thinking about your child’s self-reliance by questioning your parenting decisions throughout early development, for example:

• Is my child old enough to own this task themselves?
• Is my child old enough to sleep through the night?
• Is my child old enough to hold his own bottle?
• Can my child get dressed by themselves?
• Can my child feed themselves?

“If you’re constantly asking yourself that question as your child grows,” Levine states, “little by little you’ll be transferring responsibility for all those tasks from yourself onto your child.” This transference of responsibility enables a child to problem solve on their own and Levine believes that it sends a message that a parent trusts their child’s ability to figure it out, instilling confidence and pride from an early age.


Encouraging Independence with Homework

As your child transitions into being a student, homework becomes an important responsibility. Dr. Lee Hausner, an internationally recognized clinical psychologist and Kids in the House expert, suggests that parents use homework as a tool to establish independence in their child: “If a child comes to you and says I haven’t the vaguest idea what I should write my report about, instead of jumping in and giving him three great suggestions, your task to be a responsible parent is to say ‘I bet you could think of something all by yourself. Why don’t you go to your room, come up with two or three ideas, and the let’s share it with me?’” In this simple action, Hausner displays gently disengaging from the child’s request and giving them proper encouragement to tackle the challenge independently.

Educational Specialist and Kids in the House expert, Nathalie Kunin, proposes establishing a routine as early as kindergarten to help your child do their homework independently. Kunin believes that doing homework in the same place and time in a dedicated workspace every day will help your child. If your child is having difficulty focusing, Kunin proposes using a simple kitchen timer to break homework time into smaller chunks: “If you child can do 10 minutes of homework without your help, this is a major achievement. And praise your child for this.”


Breathing Through Overprotectiveness

A parents instinct to protect their children is a strong, important bond, but Dr. Rebecca Eberlin, PhD and Kids in the House expert, argues the same instinct can become counterproductive: “What we see nowadays is a lot of parents jumping in and wanting to save their child from any struggle or hurt or inevitable pain they might experience.” While this feeling is natural and well-intended, Eberlin suggests taking a deep breath and allowing your child an opportunity to work through a difficult situation. Eberlin uses a playdate gone sour as an example: “…if you have a child over as a play date for your own son or daughter, and as you are watching them, you realize that your child is starting to struggle a little bit, maybe they are not getting along with the other child or they are losing focus in the play, wait on your instinct to rush in and organize the play. Give your child the opportunity to reengage and feel successful in that moment. It’s those successes that are essential in your child feeling confident and secure.”


Free Play, Free Range

When kids play on their own, they are required to enact problem-solving. Whether alone or playing with other kids, freedom of movement will inspire freedom of thought, producing resilient, entrepreneurial children capable of generating and accomplishing their own ideas and tasks. By allowing your child room to play, make mistakes, and explore, you will in turn teach them responsibility, problem-solving, and resiliency. While an entirely “hands-off” approach may no longer be viable in the modern world, parents can implement a few free-range techniques and help instill self-reliance and confidence in your child.


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