There’s a great article by Katherine Ozment in Boston Magazine on how she went from helicopter parent to free-range parent. According to the many experts she queried in her quest to raise happy, self-sufficient kids, all of this attachment, bonding, and constant supervision we’ve been doing is having measurably negative effects on kids. Apparently, they’re stressed out, incapable of persevering on their own, terrified of failure, and a bit sick of our constant meddling.
I tend to be suspicious of new parenting trends. And there’s no reason to believe that “free range” parenting will turn out to be better than anything else on offer. When it comes to parenting, I’ve usually relied on two things 1) instinct 2) an admittedly non-scientific survey of my friends and family. Basically, if something worked for my brother and his kids, I’ll give it a go.
My daughter’s only 2 and a half, so there’s a limit to how “free range” she can be at this point. I’m not about to hand her a twenty then set her loose on the London Underground just yet. But there are certain moments when I’m torn between wanting to intervene and wanting to back off.
For example, when we’re at the playground, I find myself constantly on the ready to intervene if and when (usually when) she decides to hit or push someone. I’ve felt the eyes of angry parents whose kids have fallen victim to my daughter’s territorialism. I’ve actually been told off by a parent whose child Addie pushed while I wasn’t looking. So I always intervene now and I’m constantly on guard for the next incident. It’s made playground time a tense affair. I know she’s going to push someone. I just don’t know when. To be clear, Addie never pushes or hits very hard. No one’s ever been physically harmed by it. It’s more like a symbolic tap, her way of letting the kid know that she’s the boss and that the object in dispute (whether a ball, a doll, or the entire playground) belongs unequivocally to her. Do not ask me why she does this. I have no idea. Lots of other kids do it too. I think it’s a toddler thing. It doesn’t bother me if another toddler hits or pushes Addie. If she needs my help, she’ll come running. And she never does. When another toddler hits her, she tends to stand her ground, smirk slightly (I swear to God), and silently challenge the kid to try it again. She rarely even hits back. It’s almost as if the small show of aggression has earned her respect. Weird, I know. I’m trusting that this will all phase out and that she is not on deck to become a warlord.
The fact of the matter is that all toddler’s hit and push. Some do it more than others. They also bite, spit, and in one memorable case I can think of, they even punch ducks. I’m not saying we should encourage this behavior (especially vis a vis the duck, which honestly is just weird). But should I continue to swoop in the second her little hand makes contact to wave my finger in her face and solicit a forced and phony “I’m sorry?” It doesn’t seem to stop her. Should I carry some version of the naughty step with me every where I go? Addie likes the naughty step. She asks for it sometimes. I think she appreciates the peace and quiet.
So I guess my question is this: is it okay to go “free range” with your kids when they’re being semi-rotten to other kids? Or should we constantly intervene? Does leaving them to it allow kids (both the victims and the aggressors) to learn how to deal with each other, or is that the first step toward a Lord of the Flies dystopia? At what age can they learn the lesson that violence gets them nowhere?
Join my anecdotal circle, otherwise known as the Council of Wise Parents, and tell me what you think.