Finally-how to not parent in fear

Lenore Skenazy (the mother who let her 10 year old ride the subway alone) came to Rochester and gave a talk last month. I didn't know about it until that day, but now I wish I would have been able to go. I think it would have been great. I want to be free (mostly) from the fears I have that might hold my children back-hold them back from experiencing life, taking risks and therefore opportunities, from my fears and let them develop their own if they want, from society's fears... Her book and website are "free range kids" and she talks a lot about fears we have, how to let go, etc. An excerpt:

Any kid killed is a horrible tragedy. It makes my stomach plunge to even think about it. But when the numbers are about 50 kids in a country of 300 million, it’s also a very random, rare event. It is far more rare, for instance, than dying from a fall off the bed or other furniture. So should we, for safety’s sake, all start sleeping on the floor?

Well, upon reading that, I’m sure that some people will. But — let’s hope it doesn’t catch on. It’s crazy to limit our lives based on fear of a wildly remote danger.

Another mom castigated me for my irresponsibility and proudly said that she doesn’t even let her daughter go to the mailbox in her upscale Atlanta neighborhood. There’s just too much “opportunity” for the girl to be snatched and killed. To her, I’m the crazy mom.

Not that facts make any difference. Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.

They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.

And then there are those who don’t.

We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence.

Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.

So here’s to Free Range Kids, raised by Free Range Parents willing to take some heat. I hope this web site encourages us all to think outside the house.

Statistics show that crime is the lowest it's been in decades, that it's about the same as it was on the 1970's. You know, the years when kids rode bikes all over kingdom come and parents didn't know where they were until they yelled out that it was time for dinner? Yeah, those times. Society, media, money-hungry merchants all tell us to be afraid, be very afraid. And we are. But, do we even know why? Probably not. Just because someone told us to be afraid and be afraid for our kids, doesn't mean it's right, necessary, or sane.

Are there differences in where you live? Absolutely. Where I grew up it was "watch out for funny acting wild animals, natural dangers, and weird men when you're alone". For some of my former clients in the city it might be "watch out what colors you where, words you say, fights breaking out, gang signs, guns, etc." Are these real? Completely, very real dangers that exist every day.

But, to me, the purpose is to not shelter our kids so completely that they cannot think for themselves. We watch out for their safety, like Lenore says we wear our bike helmets and look both ways before crossing the street, but we can't, shouldn't, keep our kids in bubblewrap until they hit 21. Our purpose as parents is to teach them the necessary skills in order to be respectful, hardworking, contributing members of society. The role of the parent is much like a teacher or apprentice. We model the behaviors we want, we teach the skills needed in life, then we let them go and practice them. Of course at each age level that looks very different. At three, it's scraping your plate and putting it in the sink, it's playing on the deck while mom washes dishes and watches you through the window, it's going potty alone, it's dressing yourself, etc. At 9, it's riding your bike a block to a friends house, it's cleaning the bathroom, it's making yourself lunch, etc. etc. etc.

So, how do you do it? I really feel that the last 6+ years in a child development career completely allowed me to see the good, the bad, the ugly, what to expect, what's too much, what's too little, etc. Knowing what children should be able to do at a certain age is first and foremost. You can't expect a 2 year old to be completely independent in all areas, but they certainly can help, and do some things completely on their own. I'm not afraid to let Kian try either. I'll admit it was a tad scary watching him scale the giant rung ladder to the very high slide at the playground, while I stood at the bottom, wearing a sleeping baby, knowing there wasn't much I could do about anything anyways. So, I just watched and met him at the bottom. He was thrilled and proud of himself. I've learned: animals and children can sense your fear, your desperation, your nonchalance, your relaxed attitude, etc. Therefore, if you have to fake calm happiness, do it. If you're upset or nervous they feel it and feed off it. Nervous kids are more prone to get hurt because they're not focused on what they're doing as much as the feelings and mom's feelings.

It's a learning process, the first time they fall off their riding toys, the first time they want to "do it myself", there's a lot of checking yourself, biting your tongue, resisting the urge to run over and never let that happen again. But it will, and you might not be there when it does. This isn't heartless parenting. I hug and kiss my kids if they get hurt, but I probably throw a "I'm sorry you fell off that bike, I think you're okay, let's try it this way and ride again" in there too. There's not much Kian isn't allowed to try at this house, save for knives, Kevin's business stuff and that sort of stuff. Why should I hide certain things that in a few years he's going to learn anyways and I might need/want him to know then? I'm teaching him how to use the mouse lately and to get water from the fridge door.
"In order to parent with hope, we have to change our attitude from over-protection to one that teaches responsibility. Once we allow our children to suffer the age-appropriate consequences of their actions, even if it means watching them get hurt a bit, we give them the chance to learn a little more about how life works. A tumble off the swing set teaches them not to be so reckless. Failure to study results in a poor grade. It's through experience that our children learn which choices work and which ones don't." (found here)
[Another aspect-this article talks about how fearful parenting isn't from God. That all that fear is us not trusting God to take care of our kids, take care of us, to give us help in our parenting.]
Here's a secret: it saves me time and energy, lets him feel accomplished like a "big boy" and he learns a lot too. Keeping kids completely spotless, unharmed, always happy and never disappointed is a LOT OF WORK. For you mostly, but also for them, as they are never sure what they can do, are able to do, or if they should try. It also creates children with some serious adaptability and flexibility issues, with a touch of OCD, and guess what? That means more work for you again as they get older. Fine, call it lazy parenting, whatever. Start small. Let your child pick her own clothes out--eeek! I know, it might not match, and mostly Kian's don't. But, I prefer fighting battles on "not picking your brother up by the neck please" as opposed to "that plaid shirt doesn't match with those camo pants".

So...slow your steps, they might figure it out before you get there. Each whine isn't a call to duty, let them try more, get frustrated and persevere or give up, but let it be their choice. Don't do every little thing for them. Bite your tongue, especially before saying "you can't, you're too little" etc. They just might surprise you, they probably can or will figure out a way to do it anyway. Look the other way. A spill off the swing might only end up in tears if they know you're watching.
I saw Karter chewing on a pine cone and sand shovel, but kept hanging the laundry. Immunity at it's finest I say. Don't project your fears. Give them an inch. Give them the benefit of the doubt. "Instead of worrying about the danger, look at the actual risk involved and then determine the value of doing the particular activity. If it’s going to help build an innovative thinker, it might be worth a few potential nicks and cuts."
Believe in yourself, you know yourself and your child best. Trust your instincts, no book or trained expert can know you, your child and family best. If every mom in the playgroup gasps when you let Johnny use that playground port-a-potty alone, it's okay! Talk to them with real words, big words, don't dumb everything down, they're kids-not stupid. Stop reading so much! Too many books, too little time, too much conflicting "expertise" on what to do. Just feel and be, you'll know what's right-even if it's "wrong" in those dang books. As Dr. Spock said in Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, "Don't take too seriously all that the neighbors say. Don't be overawed by what the experts say. Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense."
Finally: Believe in your kids! If you tell them they can, they believe and they can do anything!

PS. I just might teach my boys how to sword fight...

ref: Dr. Paul Donahue's book: Parenting without fear.

Live Science's Meredith Small: Why we fear parenting

50 dangerous things you should let your kids do

Parenting in a climate of Fear

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