Parent Hacks: Eight tips on how to raise free-range kids

Bring back the good ol’ days this summer


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Try letting the kids hang out alone at your local park

“We never used to come in until the streets lights went on,” is something I’ve heard many of my friends say, somewhat wistfully, with their heads down texting their kids to see where they are, every minute of the day.

Of course, it’s only natural to want to know that your kids are safe and that you’re aware of what they’re getting up to, but the more we constantly keep tabs on them, the less independence and personal responsibility they learn. Are we the ones holding them back?

With the long, lazy days of summer ahead, what can we do to loosen the reins and let the kids have a “throwback summer” this year, without feeling we are putting them in danger or worrying ourselves silly?

1. We can start small. Let them walk to a friend’s house, with that friend. And back again. You might want them to check in when they leave and when they get there. Try not to check in with them at all while they’re there.

2. Have them call on a friend. Not call a friend or text a friend or message a friend. I mean, ride their bike over and ring the doorbell. 

“Can Liam come out to play?” is one of the best sentences they’ll hear.

3. The next time you go to the park with your kids, tell them the rules of play. No hitting, leaving the park, teasing, etc. Then, leave them alone at the neighbourhood park for 10 minutes. Then 15, 20, etc. You know your kids’ limits. Come back to the park, and watch them for a few minutes before they know that you’re actually there. If it appears all the rules are being followed, let them know you noticed that and that you’re glad you can trust them.

4. Instead of constantly texting them “Are you OK?” or “Please text me back,” set up a contact time that they have to adhere to. Have them call or text you at that time to let you know they are OK. If they forget and don’t bother to check in, maybe they lose a privilege until they can teach themselves to be responsible and proactive.

5. Get to know the kids your kids are hanging out with. Have a sense of the things they might be doing while hanging out together, without actively grilling them. Often your kids’ friends will be more forthcoming with information than your own children.

6. Build your village. If you see some of the neighbourhood children hanging out, without an adult, please don’t panic immediately. If they are engaged in innocent play, let them be.

7. Teach them some outside games. Kick the can? Hide and seek? Red rover? Loved these as a kid. Not sure parents today support red rover as you run full force into each other, but boy, it was a fun game to play. Send them on a scavenger hunt in the neighbourhood. Resist the urge to creep along behind them, hiding behind bushes. Buy them some sidewalk chalk, set up the sprinkler in the front yard and then quietly slip inside and try to read a book.

8. Pick an activity you enjoyed doing as a kid, and let them try it. My brothers used to enjoy blowing the heads off my Barbie dolls with firecrackers. Maybe don’t start there.

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Kathy Buckworth is the author of I Am So the Boss of You: An 8-Step Guide to Giving Your Family the ‘Business.’

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