Free-Range and the Freaked-Out Mom

Hey Readers — This is very cool. Last weekend I gave a Free-Range talk in Tucson. (Want one in your community? Check out Speaking Engagements, above). Anyway, there I met a woman who’d written to this blog very early on, and whose story I actually included in my book (pp. 51-52). Her name is Amy and she let her grade school boys bike three blocks away to a friend’s house and the friend’s mom accompanied them home, “just in case.”

Well here’s what happened a day or two after the Free-Range talk, with Amy and another skittish mom:

Dear Lenore, I recently got my anxious neighbor, Allison, to read some of your book.  She decided to take one of the ‘Free Range Baby Steps’ and let her 5 year old daughter cross the street without holding her hand.

Allison said that normally her daughter goofs off when crossing the street, pretending to faint while pulling on her mother’s arm or swinging it hard back and forth.  So Allison was very hesitant to let her cross the street without holding her hand because she thought of her daughter as so goofy and distractable.  But she found that when her daughter was given the responsibility to look both ways and make sure it was safe to cross, suddenly that goofiness disappeared and she took the job seriously.  She looked carefully for cars and crossed the street quickly and calmly!

First off, let’s hear it for Allison — being open-minded enough to read a book not totally in synch with her parenting style, and even try one of the tips out! And then let’s hear it for that ol’ one-two punch: Giving kids a little freedom and a little responsibility. Thus does the world begin to change! — Lenore

20 Responses

  1. WooWhoo!

  2. That’s great! I am so hoping my guys react so well to opportunity.

  3. Yes! I have started letting my 3-year-olds cross the road and walk in parking lots without holding my hand. They are more than ready for this first step toward awareness. More awareness => more responsible choices in the future, I think.

  4. Kudos to the parent!

    This reminded me of a time when DairyStateKid#2 was about 3, we were in a setting at which I did not feel it was safe for him to walk across a street without holding my hand. He was then — and is to this day, 10 yrs. later — a very determined and strong-willed kid. When I reached to take his hand, he pulled away and said, “I’ll hold my own hand!”

    To be honest, I wasn’t willing to let him do that then, but I’ve never forgotten that moment. And as often as possible, I do try to give him opportunities to metaphorically hold his own hand…

  5. Hey it’s me! It was fun to meet Lenore in person last weekend at the Tucson Book Festival, she looks just the same in person!

  6. I’ve been teaching my 2yr old to look both ways as we cross streets. We start by holding hands, but I let go once I’ve seen the road is clear. Way to go!

  7. I live in the burbs of Silicon Valley. I have a 16 yo son. When he was 13, I’m embarrassed to admit that he =didn’t know= how to cross a street by himself. He was always with someone and always assumed that person was paying attention.

    I know, I screwed up there, big time. I was mindful of many issues but dropped the ball on that one.

    He has been walking and taking the commuter train to get himself to his charter high school several cities up the Bay, and learned to take care of himself quickly.

    One evening he fell asleep on the train on the way home and got off at the wrong stop. He didn’t understand where he was and starting calling me frantically. Then his cell died. I got anxious, but he had the common sense to speak to a conductor and she let him call me.

    He was four hours late getting home, but I was really pleased that he solved the problem just fine on his own.

  8. A classic example of baby steps.

    Just last week I was at a church function and one girl came and asked her mom if she could go play outside (there’s a large safe play area on our church’s property, and it is in a “safe” neighborhood) and the mom said no, it was dark and getting late. The girl pointed out that my daughter was outside, and the mom asked me if she had permission to be out.

    I didn’t quite know what to say. My daughter will be 12 next month, and she doesn’t ask permission to go outside anywhere she’s used to being. Our rule at home is “let me know if you’re leaving the yard.” She rightly and reasonably figured that as long as she was around the church, she wouldn’t need to ask to pass through an exit.

    The thing is, I wouldn’t class this mom as helicopterish. When her older kids became teens she gave them more freedom than I have with mine. But it’s funny the assumptions people make about what’s SOP with kids.

  9. Yay!

  10. Another example of baby steps: I am working on getting my 3-year-olds ready to go to the public restroom on their own. Usually in a clean, non-crowded bathroom, I’ll let them go into the stalls alone and just be there if they need help. Today my daughter announced (as usual) that she needed to go to the bathroom 5 minutes after the food arrived. I told her to come stand by me, wiped her face & hands with a napkin, and sent her to the restroom. Her sister didn’t quite know what to make of this. “She’s going without you.” “Yes, she needs to learn how to go to the restroom by herself.” [a minute or 2 pass] “Now I’m going to go check on your sister and come back in a couple minutes. You stay here and eat your food.” “I’ll go with you.” “No, you need to sit here and wait for me.” “But mommy, the police will take you away!” LOL! I can’t imagine where she heard that (ahem). All went well and I actually got to eat my food before it got cold. Hooray!

  11. I have found that my four year old son is much more likely to behave and listen to me when I let him have some freedom ( within boundaries, of course). It’s amazing how kids seem to know what’s important and are ready and willing to meet your expectations if given the opportunity.

    Yeah for Allison!

  12. “she let her grade school boys bike three blocks away to a friend’s house and the friend’s mom accompanied them home, “just in case.””

    Light bulb just went off. Did you know that Dave Eggers included this story in his “Where the Wild Things Are” novel adaptation? He must have gotten it from your book.


    “‘How’d you get here?’ she asked.
    Another odd question. Max’s bike was lying no more than four feet behind him, in plain sight. Could she not see it?
    ‘Rode,’ he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
    ‘Alone?’ she asked.
    ‘Yup,’ he said. This lady, Max thought.
    ‘Alone?’ she repeated. her eyes had gone wide. Poor Clay. His mom was nuts. Max knew he should be careful about what he might say to a crazy person. Didn’t crazy people need to be treated with great care? He decided to be very polite.”

  13. It reminded me of when I was learning how to drive. While my mom was in the car with me, I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing because I would expect her to yell “break!!!” about a mile before the stoplight. Then one day, she wasn’t with me anymore. Suddenly, the burden of responsibility sat squarely on my shoulders, and that was the day I really learned how to drive.

    Hurray to this mom for taking a leap of faith. I bet she’ll never see her daughter in the same light again.

  14. Like I’ve said before – I think – the relevant research shows stuff like kids fight less when there isn’t a parent around. No adult, more responsibility taken; adult around, lots of temptation to do a little attention-seeking/showing off.

  15. While I am a big FR supporter I am going to have to break bad and disagree with some of these posts based on both real experience and some developmental data. I think it’s cool to cross the street with your kids w/o hand holding, but you better be there if they are under 9 – same for bikes. I just helped lead a bicycle class this weekend where two boys (maybe 7 and 10) participated with their parents. The younger of the boys demonstrated a very different (and honestly SCARY) set of judgment skills and perception of traffic than the older one.–why-kids-lack-good-judgement

  16. Yay!

  17. Ali, two kids are not exactly a huge sample size. If you taught hundreds of those classes, kept careful records, and then said “By and large, the younger children….” that would be one thing. But two kids? That’s roughly akin to “I was on a train once with a $ETHNIC and a $MYETHNICITY and the person of my own ethnicity was a little less rude than the other, so ALL people of $ETHNIC are rude.”

  18. I agree with Uly. The heck my parents were with me every time I crossed the street up to age 9. (Nine, seriously?!!) We were out all day and our parents did not accompany us in the neighborhood at all. I was “crossing” myself at least by age 5. My parents had bunch of other kids, jobs, and other stuff to deal with. How would they get everything done if they had to “cross” each of us all day long? I begin to understand why today’s kids are so housebound.

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