5 Positive Character Traits Encouraged by Free-Range Parenting

kayakerphoto by woodleywonderworks

I hope yesterday’s conversation inspired those who haven’t yet read Free-Range Kids to find a way to get your hands on a copy.  The book speaks to something far beyond allowing our children to walk down the mailbox by themselves.  In fact, the reason I chose this book as our first book talk selection is because in it’s entirety, the Free-Range Kids philosophy echoes the underlying premise of our community: uncomplicated parenting.

When we can free ourselves from the bondage of fear and shake off the shackles of consumerism-driven parenting products, we will have the freedom to raise children who are confident, educated, and equipped to thrive in the life that awaits them when enter into adulthood.

Parents who adopt a more free-range approach to parenting will most likely find that their children possess:

1. A sense of adventure

Not every parent is ready to allow her child to ride the NYC subway home unattended, but free-range parents know that going on adventure sparks imagination and cultivates a joie de vivre that can’t be recreated by Wii.  These are parents who intentionally and thoughtfully plan adventures – large and small – and either enjoy them together as a family or gradually allow more and more of the adventure to be experienced by children as individuals who are growing and maturing into greater capacity for trustworthiness.

A child who is raised in a home where adventure is celebrated is a child who will have the confidence and desire to seek it out on his own as an adult.

2. High-level problem solving skills

The absolute antithesis of free-range parenting is “helicopter parenting” – so named for the parents who hover over their child’s every activity, circumstance, and situation.  Free-range parents aren’t afraid to allow a child to try something and fail; they resist that universal parental urge to step in, intercede, and create a positive outcome.  In doing so, free-range parents allow their children to become resourceful.

When there is no parent hovering close by, a child must figure out the solution to a problem on her own.  Higher-level problem solving skills can only be developed through experiential trial-and-error.  We want our children to become adults who utilize the resources of any given situation to come up with workable (and even unexpected) solutions.  Our children can never learn this until we are willing to loosen our grasp of them.

3. An appreciation for simplicity

One of my favorite chapters in Free-Range Kids is entitled, “Boycott Baby Knee Pads.”  In this chapter, Skenazy examines the amusing (if not a little outrageous) products and services marketed to parents – all in the name of good parenting.  Free-range parents reject the idea that we have to have lots of stuff in our homes to successfully raise our children.  Many educational and safety products are rendered unnecessary when we place a higher premium on common sense, interaction, and experience than we place on buying stuff.

When children are raised in a home that is uncluttered and unaffected by our culture’s ongoing encouragement to buy! buy! buy!, they grow into adults who are not so easily swayed by the latest gadgets and gizmos.

4. Self-confidence

In examining how parents often operate under the illusion of Total Control (complete control of our children, their choices, and their circumstances), Skenazy writes

There is an idea in the air that somehow, if we just involve ourselves enough in our children’s lives and think ahead and make a lot of plans and decisions, our children will be able to sail through their days, happy and successful.

Of course, we all know there is no such thing as Total Control over our children.  But when we act out of that mindset, we cripple their ability to see themselves as separate, independent, and capable beings.  How will they develop confidence in their ability to function as an individual if they have never been given the freedom to be an individual?

Free-range parents realize that part of growing up is growing into an acceptance and confidence in who you are as a person and are willing to step back a little (or even a lot) to create space for a healthy sense of confidence to mature.

5. Independence

As Ms. Skenazy concludes the book, she makes a plea for parents to foster a sense of independence in our children as they grow.

On page 193, she writes

Childhood is supposed to be about discovering the world, not being held captive.  It’s not about having that world pointed out to you by a DVD or a video game or by your mom as you drive by.  “See honey?  That’s called a ‘forest’.  Can you spell forest?”

We want our children to have a childhood that’s magical and enriched, but I’ll bet that your best childhood memories involve something you were thrilled to do by yourself.  These are childhood’s magical words: “I did it by myself!”

A wonderful thing happens when we start to trust ourselves rather than parenting experts or the evening news – we begin to see our children’s growing up years through the lens of all we want them to experience, rather than all we want to protect them from.

When my children leave childhood behind and walk forward into adulthood, I hope and pray they will go forth with a firm sense of independence and assuredness that won’t be easily swayed.  When challenges arise, I hope their first instinct won’t be to look around and wonder, “Where’s Mom?  Can Dad fix this for me?” Instead, I want to create a childhood that fills them with all the tools and knowledge and confidence they need to enjoy an adulthood that is happily and healthily independent from me.

Two exciting opportunities I want to make you aware of:
1) Tonight at 8 PM EST, Summit Series for Families will be interviewing Lenore Skenazy. Phone lines will be open for live calls, so if there is a question or comment you have for this author, tonight is the night to connect with her live!
2) Tomorrow at 10 AM EST, @SimpleKids and @FreeRangeKids will be tweeting-up!  We invite you to join us on Twitter to talk about all things Free-Range Parenting.  This is another chance to have Ms. Skenazy weigh in on your questions and respond to your feedback.  I hope to see you there!