These days, being a parent seems so much more complicated than previous generations. With so many parenting styles and trends making headlines, it's hard to know which ones are right for you and your family. One of the most talked about trends is called "free-range" parenting, which refers to parenting with the intention to foster independence in children. If you're thinking about trying this parenting philosophy or are just looking for some new tricks, there are a few free-range parenting techniques you should have in your back pocket.
The mother who most famously coined the term apparently did so by allowing her child to navigate the New York City subway system on his own at the ripe age of 9. If you think that sounds extreme, you're not alone. The free-range parenting movement has gotten lots of backlash from the media. But it turns out, there some concepts to this new and untraditional parenting style that everyone can get behind. You may have even used some of these techniques without realizing.
When some parents hear about free-range parenting, they think about knife-wielding kindergarteners running amuck through the woods on their own (true story in Denmark). But, according to an article from Very Well Family, "free-range" parenting isn't about being negligent or overly permissive. I checked in with parenting coach and author of the book Family Centered Parenting, Dr. Richard Horowitz, and clinical psychologist, family therapist, and author of the book Being the Grownup: Love, Limits, and the Natural Authority of Parenthood, Dr. Adelia Moore, to see if there were some beneficial concepts to this parenting style.
Dr. Moore describes free-range parenting as "a [parenting] philosophy which encourages children's age-appropriate independence, especially in relation to being free of parent supervision in their neighborhoods and communities." Sounds pretty cool, right? Let's see if some of these philosophies are right for your family.
1. Teach Low-Risk/High-Return Skills
In an article on the website Empowering Parents, free-range parents allow their child to tackle an age appropriate skill where they can experience consequence at low stakes. For example, perhaps a simple chore or baking cookies. Parents can demonstrate or walk them through the task first, then allow children to try it on their own without too much guidance, criticism, or strict supervision.
2. Allow Them To Experience Consequence
Free-range parents understand that their child may not do a perfect job at first. They "resist the urge fix and criticize" and instead "praise their efforts" and allow them to experience the consequences of their mistakes. Dr. Horowitz tells Romper this can help your child "build resilience" and take responsibility for their actions, while also teaching them problem solving.
3. Incorporate Unstructured Play
In an article on the Very Well Family website, free-range parents incorporate lots of unstructured playtime. Instead of rushing your child to a bunch of structured activities, free-range parents value "[giving] kids the freedom and the opportunity to just 'be kids.'" Unstructured play allows for kids to solve unique problems on their own, in ways they may not be exposed to in a supervised or scheduled activity such as piano lessons or baseball practice.
4. Encourage Lots Of Outside Play
Free-range parents encourage children to play outside and spend time in nature. Outside play can help foster a child's imagination and creativity because they're able to come up with play ideas on their own, like "building forts" or "playing in the garden".
5. Create An Environment Of Positive Reinforcement
For some parents, this may be the most difficult concept of free-range parenting. While our children struggle or make a mistake, to a lot of parents, resisting the urge to assist may feel counter-intuitive. Even punishment may feel necessary, but Dr. Horowitz says free-range parents "adopt principles of discipline rather than punishment."
6. Believe In Your Child's Capabilities
If you believe in your child, they will believe in themselves. Dr. Moore tells Romper, "confidence builds confidence." Fostering your child's confidence by believing in them and their capabilities will not only help them build their own confidence and self-reliance, but it will help decrease anxiety.
7. Find A Healthy Balance
When it comes to free-range parenting, finding a healthy balance between allowing your child to learn from their mistakes and keeping your child safe can be a slippery slope. Dr. Horowitz says, "Creating a healthy balance between parental authority and children's freedom and self-reliance" is key if you want to give free-range parenting a try. Dr. Moore adds to this: "It is [the parents'] responsibility to protect their child and keep them safe, but it is also your responsibility to help them grow and develop and be able to function in the world on their own."
8. Bring The Kids Into Some Of The Decision Making
Free-range parents allow their child to be a part of some of the family decision making. Dr. Horowitz says, "Children should have substantial input in determining rules and responsibilities. Children should also be part of creating a family mission statement."
9. Let Them Solve Their Own Problems
For so many parents, allowing your child to make their own mistakes can be really hard. "Whenever possible, give the children the opportunity to resolve problems with only minimal parental input," Dr. Horowitz suggests. He explains this helps children by "enabling the child to feel powerful (control over their environment, being heard and listened to) without eroding on parental authority." The reason why this is so important for kids is because "when children learn to solve their own problems without a lot of parental interference it builds grit, which will benefit them all their lives."
10. Allow Them To Experience Age-Appropriate Independence
Allow your child to experiment with some age-appropriate independence and more importantly, earn their independence. "Allow your child to walk the dog around the block or go on a sort of errand to the neighborhood store," Dr. Moore suggests. "Allow them to go to a friend's house to play, getting there and back on their own. Drop them off at the playground to play while you do an errand."
If that seems too extreme for you, start with some tasks in the house. Dr. Moore says you can "give them chores and tasks to do without your supervision — or do it with them at first, and then let them do it alone."