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Free range parenting can be roughly considered as the opposite of helicopter parenting. Instead of monitoring every activity of your child, as a free-range parent, you give them enough autonomy wherever possible to ensure they grow up to be self-reliant. Continue reading for all you need to know about what free-range parenting is and why it’s growing in popularity.
What is Free Range Parenting?
The idea of “free range” comes from livestock that are kept under natural conditions. Children under free-range parenting have the independence and autonomy to dictate many aspects of their lives without having their parents constantly monitoring them. Free range parents help build their children’s confidence and self-sufficiency by encouraging them to learn as they go and not butting in all the time. Parents do not dictate their schedule and allow the children to have unstructured play time instead of engaging them in structured activities. Time spent outdoors on their own is also emphasised over screen time or indoor supervised play. Free range parents make critical decisions such as education and house rules, but the line is drawn at decisions that children can make on their own.
The result is counter-intuitive, rather than being “spoiled” as many parents would come to expect, successful free-range children learn problem-solving skills at a much younger age, assess risks and benefits, ask for help when needed and be flexible. Through their personal experiences, they would have come to rely on themselves, and while they know firsthand the cost of making mistakes, they would also learn to take responsibility for their actions. An essential component of free-range parenting is to give children the tools they need to cope with what experience might bring their way and letting them out into the world to put those tools to use.
Why Do Parents Choose Free Range Parenting?
You may have come across a free-range mom in your neighbourhood or your child’s school. At first glance, they may seem lazy or neglectful of their children, but dig a little deeper, and you realise the philosophy behind their parenting. Freedom and independence are the most natural conditions of childhood for them; it could be simple things such as letting their young children walk to school alone, play in the park unsupervised or ride their bikes in the neighbourhood for as long as they want and come home when the streetlights turn on.
The culture now is mostly dominated by helicopter parents who cocoon their children from every possible danger real and imaginary depriving them of their chance to learn to cope with or navigate the challenges of life. Free range parents understand that they can’t be around their children at every moment to guide or protect them. They want their children to learn essential skills that prepare them for adulthood. After all, being an adult is to be independent, solve problems and make responsible decisions. Training children to be as independent as possible will make their transition into adulthood smoother. On the other hand, the result of helicopter parenting is boomerang children who fail to launch and struggle to make good decisions independently.
Pros and Cons of Free Range Parenting
As with every form of parenting that borders on the ends of the spectrum, free-range parenting comes with both benefits and downsides.
- Kids will be able to enjoy more time outdoors or in activities without having to wait for their parents to be there.
- Kids can be more creative in their expression when there’s no one supervising them. That means they have more opportunities to be adventurous and explorative.
- They get a chance to learn how to solve problems on their own without needing help. This includes times when they have to face unfair situations where their parents aren’t rushing to their defence.
- You will also have more time for yourself without the constant worry or anxiety about the safety of your kids. You know your kids are out there having a good time and there is nothing to worry about.
- More time unsupervised also means there will be more ways in which they can hurt themselves. Maybe they’re playing a new game on the tree and misjudge the height of their jump; there are no adults to stop them in such times.
- It takes a while before your child really understands what is safe and what is not. They often need several attempts to get it right, and you have to be around to supervise. You will have much training to do before they are good enough to be by themselves.
- You might soon build a reputation as an irresponsible parent or someone who is too neglectful.
How to Get Started with Free Range Parenting?
If free-range parenting falls within what your idea of a good parenting method, then here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Put Your Fears Behind and Encourage Independence
Fear is our first instinct that drives the opposition to free-range parenting and is what makes us helicopter parents. It should be understood that risks are inevitable, and accidents can happen with your child getting injured. However, the benefits of this parenting approach outweigh the risks. Therefore encourage your child to be more independent everywhere possible.
2. Establish The Ground Rules
Free range doesn’t mean you allow your kids to do anything they please; their autonomy exists within a broader framework of rules that ensures things don’t fall apart. For example, if your child wants to go down to his friend’s house by himself, will he keep up his word that he will call you as soon as he gets there or call before he leaves back for home? Is he mature enough to understand the necessity of these rules and adhere to it? If so, lay down the rules for him and grant him freedom only when he doesn’t break the rules.
3. Prepare Your Child for The Challenges They Would Face
It’s essential when they are alone that they know how to get out of dangerous situations, analyse people and recognise threat at a distance. This means having uncomfortable discussions with them about the dangers that exist and how to get out. For example, if a stranger asks him to get into his car to help him search for his lost cat, your kid should not only run away but run in the direction opposite to the car. By the time the car turns around to go after him, he should already be on the next street yelling for help. Practical tips like these are hard to discuss but can save his life.
4. Remember The “3T’s”
- Teach Problem Solving: Give them a task every day where they may have to solve a problem to complete the task. Be it baking cookies with where they have to get everything right and not set the kitchen on fire or fixing something broken in the house. Allow them to take care of minor tasks around the house and praise them for their efforts and solutions.
- Think Ahead: If the short term risk to your child scares you, think about the usefulness of the lesson they learn in the future. Remember that risk is an essential component of learning for everybody and a healthy amount of risk would boost the child’s confidence. If they forget their coat on a cold winter day and you refrain from reminding them, they probably wouldn’t forget it again after being out in the cold that day.
- Take Time: You’re bound to feel uncomfortable initially with all the risks you’re allowing your child to take. It takes time to get used to it and beat all the “what ifs?” that pop into your mind.
Children who are given more autonomy over their life while understanding and taking up responsibility for the consequences of their actions will be better prepared for adulthood. Free range parenting is a good way to ensure your children are able to navigate the complications of modern life successfully as adults.