Help Needed: My Husband Doesn’t Want My Girl to Play Outside EVER

Hi from Austraia, mates! About to embark on a rather long trip home. (But I sure loved it here!) In the meantime, please help this mom. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: So, this really plays into a question/problem I’ve been having. I want to have my daughter be more Free-Range/independent. She just turned 5 this month. I remember at her age being allowed to go outside to play and roam a fairly large area. But my daughter has yet to experience that. Partly because there are no other kids about her age outside, she’s not interested and I don’t blame her. However when I asked my husband at what age he’d let her go to the park by herself he basically said never. He knew a girl who said that at age 12 she was at a park in a tree and some guy came and raped her. He wants to prevent this happening for our little girl by hovering. We live in a very safe area but he is still uncomfortable. What do you say to someone like this?

Lenore here: Well, what I SAY is what I always say: In New York City there was a child who was killed by a falling tree branch. Does that mean we should never let our children walk under trees anymore? We don’t make our kids safer when we make our decisions based on rare and random events. 

I also generally say: More children are killed and injured in car accidents than are hurt or killed by strangers. So do you neven intend to let your daughter ride in a car?

BUT from what I saw in filming my World’s Worst Mom (a.k.a. World’s Worst Mum, a.k.a. Bubble Wrap Kids) show, was that the thing that REALLY changed nervous parents was when I physically made them stay home while I took the kids out and let them DO something on their own. When I let them set up a lemonade stand down the street, out of sight of their worried mom. Or when I let them play in the woods, or go to the playground, or go on an overnight. I’d videotape them for a bit and then let them actually BE on their own. But in the meantime, I’d bring that video back to the parents. And when they saw with their own eyes how HAPPY their kids were and how normal and ridiculously NON-TERRIFYING the whole scene was — how it reminded them of their OWN childhoods — in 12 out of 13 episodes, the parents changed. They couldn’t help themselves. They felt the proverbial pride and joy at watching their kids live in and love the world. So to this mom I’d say: Try letting your child have a little time on her own, even in the front yard. Then come up with some way for your husband to observe it. It could do the trick. And hopefully the readers here will have some great ideas, too! – L.

37 Responses

  1. So please tell me your show has been renewed for a second season! 13 more families NEED YOU, and 13 million need to WATCH YOU…

  2. Lenore, great post. I was just wondering, though, which episode was it where the parents didn’t change? I’ve seen the entire first season, but I forget.

  3. The husband is the same as both my parents. I’m in my 20s but “as long as I’m living under their roof I’m gonna follow their rules; i have it alot better than alot of kids; there’s kids that would knock the door down to have parents like [them]…”

  4. I must confess, as a SAHM I used to have a bit of a problem with my husband about things like that, and as a male raised in Asia he has a bit of a ‘god’ complex anyway, so I just used to not tell him what I let the kids do. By the time he would find out it was usually pretty obvious they were perfectly capable, and after one or two rants to once again establish that he was ‘boss’, he would just let them carry on doing whatever it was – going to the school playground alone, the shops, whatever..

    A bit naughty, I know, and not the ideal Western way to run a relationship, but what the heck, it works for us!

  5. @backtothenineties – my oldest is fifteen, and so I’m not far behind your parents, and I just hope I don’t end up sounding like that!🙂 Is there not a way you could maybe leave home? I know things are tough economically at the moment, and people are being forced back to living with each other again, but that might end up being the only way to convince them you’re a fully functioning adult….And even that might not work, but at least when you’re living independently you’ll be making your own rules anyway.

    Good luck with that🙂

  6. Is she your first or only child? I try to be a little free range – my kids play in our yard with no hovering etc and are out of my sight, and I allow sleepovers etc… but I will admit my children have gotten more independent/outside alone with the more I had. My first daughter was more along the lines of 9 years old before playing alone. Then my next daughter was playing in the street with the neighbour at around 6/7 years old. Now their 5 year old sister joins them outside regularly without my close attention. My problem now is that their 2 1/2 year old sister now cries from the gate begging to be let out! (but I have rules, we do live inner city and our street is a little busy, so she cant go out there till around 4 or more)

    no one really wants their child to be playing outside alone. I know you said you dont have many kids the same age around, but you might be surprised. The longer we have stayed in this area the more kids I have found that I had no idea lived at the end of the street or the next street over. Walk around your area lots and you might meets some more people – Once we started riding our bikes and walking around our area alot more we have found so many more kids, met elderly people etc.

    It really helped me when I found a like minded family (who had moved from the country to the city and previously had to catch a bus a long way to school. the kids begged the parents as soon as they move to city they were walking/riding everyday.) My kids then started walking/riding them ( 11 yrs, 8 years, 6 years who take themselves to school hail rain or shine!) and the older two (11 years old – one of mine and one of theirs) have started catching two city buses to get to their school instrumental music class held at another school. Without this family I don’t think I would have been ready for my kids to do these things alone. So I suppose my advice is keep looking for other kids.

    I agree with Lenore, the day I sent my older two kids to ‘play in the park alone day’ about 2 or so years ago.. they came home so proud of themselves, glowing and feeling so good. It does make you happy! I’ve been scared about my girl catching the bus (funny I’m more scared about her than her 9 year old sister who seems to have more smarts – I wonder IF it is because the elder stayed in with us longer than the younger ones have??) but I actually had to drive down to the other school to take the friend who had missed the bus, and I happened upon my daughter walking along looking so adult like! I and she was beeming with pride!

  7. I agree with the comment about the pride and confidence kids get out of being independent at that age. And I think that was ultimately what convinced me to stick to the free-range philosophy and not give in to peer pressure. That look on my daughter’s face when she came back the first time she walked home alone from school and the first time she took the dog for a walk on her own.

    Could you maybe convince your husband to let her walk to the nearest store to buy an icecream once? You could even give her a walkie talkie (I used to love ours when my daughter was younger) if it makes him feel less worried. And maybe that beaming face when she comes back will make him see that his attitude is rather selfish and that he owes it to her to let her step out into the world.

    As for the rape story… Make him read Lenore’s book!

  8. Working dads rarely have a good grasp on what their kids can do since they’re at work when the kids are most active. Rather than going cold turkey, perhaps this father could sit (and not interfere) on the opposite side of the playground for a few days, then across the park, then walk by once an hour, then stay home and help mom around the house (make dinner, perhaps?!) and let the poor child play.

  9. First thing first for the mom in the post. Both she and her daughter need to accept that some times daughter will need to play alone. Outside. Starting with the yard. I am willing to guess that mom does expect daughter to play alone at times in the house, in another room from her, so outside is not that different.

    She can take things outside to play with. She can make fairies out of flowers, dig in the dirt, ride a bike, garden. Watch birds, identify butterflies, learn about cycles of trees and plants. Even, read a book.

    If all of this is happening, proceed to park plan. Then maybe mom should take daughter to the park, bring a book, and proceed to ignore her. Mom can work her way into walking around the edge of the park for exercise. Maybe read in the car, do things where her back is turned and it isn’t evident who is watching the kid. Then maybe walk across the street for something, or down the street for a powerwalk.

    For dad, she should talk to the police about her neighborhood. Maybe just ask about crime stats, or get a friend to ask as though she/he was thinking about purchasing a house there. Ask about crime in the town and city in general. Some places rape does happen on annual basis, like when I lived in a college town. But those cases usually were on campus and involved students (male and female) who were under the influence and left the door unlocked so that someone else under the influence could come in. Which shouldn’t involve most 5 year olds.

  10. Teach your kids to not talk to strangers and if a stranger comes near them to walk away to a more populated area. Draw plenty of attention to yourself, if you suspect someone is following you. Then if they do get brazen enough to snatch the child, teach the child to scream FIRE! and HELP!!! very loudly. Pedophiles are typically cowards and will not do anything if they think they will be caught or seen. Also teach your kids to bite, scratch and kick and punch criminals in places where they hurt. You can raise a child to be independent and know how to take care of themselves. Would you agree with me Lenore?

  11. I would say do it little by little, but get started. Drop her off a little distance from school so she can walk. Let her go to the park, not alone, but with some peers whom you trust. Leave her there for a while during times when the place is fairly well-populated. Sign her up for self-defense classes and make sure she is very clear on how to avoid the true “stranger dangers.” Equip her with a cell phone for emergency use only.

    Also, let her ask Dad herself for permission to go. If she sounds confident about it, maybe he will realize she’s not a helpless baby.

    The dangers to girls don’t get smaller as they get closer to adulthood. Yet you have to let them out sometime. Better to get them used to it while the risks truly are miniscule and manageable.

  12. @James, that sort of generalised stranger danger is not a good thing to teach your kids. Not only will it make them unnecessarily fearful of strangers, of whom the vast majority are good people, but it may prevent them from asking a stranger for help if they need to. Even professionals dealing with missing and abused kids agree on that these days. What you do want to teach your kids is to never go with a stranger and to trust their gut instinct to recognise dodgy behaviour. If they feel threatened they should try to create distance between them and the unsavory character and ask someone for help.

    I don’t think it’s necessary at all to enrol your child in self-defence classes, especially not at that age. The message I want to give my child is that it is highly unlikely she will ever get into a situation where she will need to defend herself. In case she does, good old-fashioned kicking and screaming will do the trick.

    I also don’t think it’s necessary for my child to carry a cell phone. I trust that she will be able to look after herself when she is out and about without always having me on standby.

    To me it really is mostly about showing my daughter that she can function out there without me and that the world really isn’t such a scary place. We take it step by step, but every time she manages to solve a problem without my help, she gains more confidence, feels more empowered.

  13. I think you have to start small. Start by letting her play in the backyard, unsupervised, if that’s an option. The next step can be the front yard, but she is given boundaries to stay in the confines of the yard. When she is successful at that, open her boundaries a bit, say, to the street corner.

    When I first started letting my kids play outside unsupervised, I was wary. We had moved from Arizona to Utah and I was used to never seeing any kids playing outside. But when we were in our nice little suburban neighborhood in Utah, I noticed lots of kids outside playing. The next door neighbors were always ringing the doorbell asking if my kids could come outside. At first, I only let the older two boys, who were 6 and 7 at the time, out, and they were to stay in the front yard and not leave that area. Eventually, I saw that they were doing fine and extended the boundary to the corners of our street on either side–where they could still see the house and I could see them from the upstairs windows. Later on, I let them ride their bikes around the block and play at the park across the street. At the time, though, I also had a 4 and 3 year old. They were not allowed out front without me or my husband present. I decided that 5 was a good age to start letting them out front. I kept to that, but now that my third boy is 5, nearly six, my daughter is 4 going on 5. There are tons of 4, 5, and 6-year-olds in our neighborhood and all the kids are outside playing every afternoon–from ages 4 until the older ones, who are 10, 11 and 12. I finally gave in and allow my 4-year-old daughter to play with the rest of them. When she plays out front by herself, which is actually rare because she has three older brothers, she is required to stay in the front yard. But otherwise, as long as my four older kids stay together and in the neighborhood, I let them go. Two years ago, I never would have.

    Of course, my situation is different with all the siblings and other kids out playing, but my point is that it was a gradual thing for me. Now my big challenge will be making my baby wait until he is about four before he can join them. He is itching to go out with them now, but 1, well, that’s just too young! Although, I admit, I let the oldest (now 9) take him for an occasional walk down the street and back in the stroller, which he loves.

  14. Sorry but I have to post this in order to unsubscribe from getting emails of follow-up comments. WordPress is getting weirder and weirder.

  15. I agree–you need to find people for her to play with. Also there is a large variation in 5 year olds. I know some I’d trust, and others no way. I’d allow her to play in the yard alone, but I wouldn’t expect a kid that age to wander around alone. Sounds awfully lonely and boring. So I think step one is companions, and then gradual increase of freedom. Good luck!

  16. We all have the same goal, yet different opinions on how to achieve it.🙂 I don’t agree on the need to always send kids out with other kids. I had 3 older sisters when I was growing up and we did do lots together. But I was sent to the store and walked places on my own very regularly from a young age. And it creates a different level of awareness and confidence.

    Of course I do agree that playing outside alone is pretty boring for any child. But I have fond memories of running errands and walking home by myself and enjoying the freedom of not having to follow anyone else’s tempo or agenda.

  17. Iinvo – I want to clarify that some of the suggestions were not so much because they are absolutely necessary, but because they could increase the dad’s sense of security without severely restricting the kid. It is better to send a kid out with a friend or a cell phone than to have her stuck in the house or hanging around her parents all the time.

  18. First of all, I’m a different Emily from the one who posted upthread. Anyway, when I was a kid (born in 1984 in Canada), my parents were overprotective, because they didn’t generally let me and my brother walk/bike/whatever around the neighbourhood by ourselves, but playing alone in the yard was sort of a given. I guess times have changed.

  19. Our nearly 3-yr old is already in the habit of saying “Turn off the TV, I want to go outside!” However, living in FL we regularly have large snapping turtles and a wide variety of snakes (including venomous ones) pass through our backyard. We’ll let her run around while we garden outside, but still have reservations about letting her play unsupervised with those natural predators possibly lurking. We’ve taught her that the snapping turtle is “a mean turtle” and if she see a snake to “run away”, but for the other animals it’s still “look, but don’t get too close.” What I think it comes down to is whether she has shown the ability to recognize the danger (be it animal or human) and whether we’ve taught her the appropriate response. As she gets older and demonstrates good judgement, it will be easier to let her roam without us.

  20. Lenore is right. Your husband is basically traumatized and fearful. And like with any other fear, it’s usually unsubstantiated, and with work and dedication, can be over come. I used to be deathly afraid of heights, now I can stand on balcony on the 20th floor, and look down. I just conditioned myself to get over it. And just like this husband conditioned himself into his fear, he condition himself to get out of it.

  21. Don’t feel you have to limit her friends to kids of similar age! My daughter is 5 and her friends range in ages from 6 – 12. MY DH is nervous about letting the kids outside without an adult, but older kids being around, and even just knowing that there are older kids in the neighborhood she knows (that will know exactly where to find her parents if she needs help, that will know her voice if they hear her yelling from inside their house, etc.) makes him feel better about it. Though schools encourage kids to separate by age and even gender, when left to their own devices they will base friendship on mutual interest instead (and while you’d think a 5 and 12 year old wouldn’t have much in common, it can be as simple as they both like to ride bikes or they both like to kick a ball around). Just letting a kid play outside in their own yard will bring other kids out of the woodwork.

    Is there a library in your neighborhood? Maybe it has some kind of activity for kids that will allow your daughter to meet other kids that live nearby.

    As for your husband, it’s just a fear he has to face and see that things will be fine. Start off small, obviously, for both the development of the child and for Dad’s sanity. He’ll always worry, but he can’t keep her within eyesight forever, and it’s safer for her to learn slowly how to be independent, rather than just being pushed from the nest at 18.

  22. Amanda–absolutely agree. One of the main things missing from childhood today is the idea that kids of all ages can learn from each other. The older kids learn more from spending time with younger and vice versa. It is so important and organized activities just rob them of this experience.

  23. I wonder when the rest of North America will be allowed to watch your show online. We sure need it here!

  24. “Jewish wisdom holds that our children don’t belong to us,” Wendy Mogel says in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. “They are both a loan and a gift from God, and the gift has strings attached. Our job is to raise our children to leave us. The children’s job is to find their own path in life. If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family, children will become weak and fearful or feel too comfortable to want to leave.”

    I just read this and for me it sums up why “hovering” doesn’t help children. I also have a 5yo, and my advise for your husband would be to start small. Let her play in a sandbox alone, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, first (passive activities) and as she earns your trust, allow her more independence. As Amanda said above, older children are a GREAT resource to show the “lay of the land” in your neighborhood. Ours(12-14yo) organize all sorts of activities and games (manhunt with flashlights is a favorite) and keep an eye on them while they are out.

  25. I think the original poster was looking more for what to do with her husband than her kid. For me, I have found the best thing is to allow the kids to do the independent stuff when he is not around. Then, they tell him about it after the fact. It has never failed that they were soooo proud and sooooo excited, that he couldn’t help realize it was good for them and that they were ready. If your husband is like mine, talking to him won’t help. He needs to see it to believe it. A little bit at a time, I am bringing him along. Oh, and watching Bubble Wrap Kids with him helped A LOT.

  26. Hmmm, maybe employ a 12 year old to take her to the park. She won’t be alone then. And neither will the 12 year old.

  27. Well you gotta start with baby steps. Start with her being in the yard and then increase that distance bit by bit. It really helps if she can have a playmate, I know I worry less if my 6 year old is outside and he is with another kid. It’s just handy in case someone gets hurt, the other can come and tell a parent if they need to.
    We are pretty lucky that we have close friends that live close that are also free range, so the boys will be increasing their adventures.
    I think it is also hard for some people to foresee what life will be like in the future, they just have to take life day by day.
    It is probably true that the main parent at home is more relaxed because they witness what their child is capable of more often.
    Today my hubby and I had a disagreement about our 3 year asleep in our van outside. I was completely comfortable leaving him to finish his nap i our driveway with the door slightly ajar. He can’t get out of his carseat, and I had our house window wide open so I could hear him if he woke up. But my hubby felt too weird about it and tried to carefully bring him in…well he woke up and the whole thing just felt silly to be worried about imo.

  28. DO NOT go behind your husband’s back and let her have more freedom that he is comfortable with and videotape it or tell him about it and show him how right you are. Marriages need to be built on trust. You have a difference of opinion that needs to be worked out, but sneaking around isn’t a good idea. I would suggest finding a family that are more free range – maybe not radical about it, but more than him – and befriend them. Let him see how it works for them. Also, I think the baby steps ideas many have posted are excellent. Try little things at once. In my opinion, five is too young to go to the park alone, but certainly sitting on a bench while they run around and play is totally age appropriate. Let her into the backyard alone while he watches from the window. In a few years when she is old enough to go to the park alone, having her go with a friend may make him less nervous, since if anything bad is going to happen, it’s most likely to happen when a child is alone. And remember all good daddies are a bit overprotective and want to protect their little girls, so be thankful he loves her so much. 🙂

  29. Maybe your husband will feel better about letting her play alone by the times she’s 8 if you sign her up for Tae Kwon Do now and she’s had three eyars of self-defense training. Seems his concerns are primarily attackers.

  30. Your husband is unrealistic and unreasonable. Never say never. This could backfire on him.

    Hey Lenore, My sister LOVES your book!!!! I sent it to her! Thanks!

  31. Does he let YOU out alone? Because there is as much a chance that you’d be raped in a park. Unless you are a female Chuck Norris, you’d be as unlikely to be able to prevent your rape as men are generally bigger and stronger than women. In fact does HE leave the house? Everytime he does there is some risk that he will be mugged, jumped, robbed by someone bigger and stronger or armed.

    Of course you and he leave the house alone because being able to funtion as an independent human being is vital to who we are. We pity shut-ins afraid to leave their own home. We abhor the stories of women in the middle east who are not allowed to leave the house without male escorts. Yet we refuse to give the same basic right of independence to our children.

    In my opinion, 5 is too young to be at a park alone, particularly one who hasn’t even played in the yard alone. That may be all your husband is reacting to – he can’t picture your daughter doing this at 8 or 9 because she is not there yet. At 5, she should be able to play alone (without other kids) for periods of time so get her in the yard by herself. Buy a swingset, sand box, trampoline if that would help. Try to find some free range playmates for your daughter. When she is ready to go to the park alone broach the subject with you husband again. Most men are pretty concrete thinkers. They are much more likely to rationally look at a situation at hand (isn’t it time we let Susie go to the park alone) than an abstract (at what age in the future can Susie go to the park alone).

  32. @Mary. I think you were responding to my post, so let me clarify what I meant. I agree with you that trust is important and it is not okay to “sneak around behind your husband’s back.”. On the other hand, when I am responsible for the children, I parent them in the manner I feel appropriate, just as he does when they are with him. I can’t force him to parent my way nor can he force me to parent them his way. When I allow my kids more freedom than he would, I am not deceiving him or sneaking around, I am simply parenting them as I see best. If he ever said “no, do NOT do that,” I wouldn’t. But, that is not the same thing as allowing them more freedom than he would. And when he sees that they really can do it, he relaxes a little. Case in point : I recently taught them how to use their kiddy cutlery knives. Hubby had never said “no”, I just knew how nervous he was about it. So, I taught them. And the next meal, they showed him proudly what they had learned. Next meal, he was the one who brought put the knives and we have never looked back.

  33. I think much good advice has been given here. I also think that without your support of his paranoid approach (though along with others I don’t think you should be overtly undermining him, of course) he will realize, as she gets older, that she is gradually becoming less and less of a baby and NEEDS and is capable of dealing with more independence. It probably will not be as soon as you or would be appropriate, and so you have to gently work against that, by allowing her as much freedom and teaching her as much responsible behavior as you can without directly undermining him, and showing him she’s capable of more. But I have a hard time believing that a child who gradually demonstrates independence and responsibility as she grows, because she is encouraged by *you* as much as you reasonably can, is going to be unable to bring her Daddy around, albeit probably more slowly than is ideal.

  34. Sorry, that’s “It probably will not be as soon as you or I think would be appropriate” — I don’t know why I always lose words in typing!

  35. Try explaining to people that the reason that the story your friend told you about being raped, or the reason that the story about the kids getting abducted from the park stuck with them is because it was so one-off – so rare and odd and unheard of – that it was a really big deal. The problem is that you won’t have much luck, because of biases in the human brain that concentrate solely on the remotest of risks and dismiss the benefits of living with that risk.

    It is similar to plane crashes. They are so rare that they are really big news when they happen. But people don’t see it that way, because you don’t see news stories about the 150,000 flights that DIDN’T crash that day, or the millions and million of flights that DIDN’T crash between this crash and the next most recent one.

    I had a co-worker tell me that she wanted more than anything to go to Hawaii, but never could because she is scared that the plane will crash.

    My response was that it is a far greater tragedy to not live your life out of fear of dying than to die in the process of living your life.

    But the congnitive bias still exists – to these people, the one in one billion (literally) chance that their kid might get kidnapped on their way home from the park some day is enough to justify never allowing them to do anything on their own – to never venture beyond your sight, to never make a decision without your approval, to never develop common sense and the ability to help themselves, so that when they’re 18 years old and the frat house they are living in catches fire, instead of getting out of the house, they call you on the phone to ask you what they should do. (Yes, this really happened, and yes, helicopter parenting is to blame).

  36. […] as has been shown by Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, if you actually take children out and let them play without parent’s hovering over them, the parents quickly realise that their fears were totally out of step with reality. So don’t […]

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