6 Tips For Being More Free Range During the Summer
The Summer months offer parents a chance to break routine and try something new. Whether you already consider yourself to be a free-range parent during the school year or want to test out this parenting style before you reset for the new school year, unloading your child's schedule — and potentially their stress level — can have a lasting impact on your little one.
Free-range parenting works to instill a sense of independence and self-resilience in children starting from a young age by giving them freedom instead of filling their time with organized activities or supervised play. According to Dr. Gail Gross, a child psychologist and author, it's important for children to have an unstructured Summer, especially if their school year is jammed with hectic schedules. "I'm here to tell you: it's okay to relax and allow unstructured time for your children this Summer," Gross wrote in a post on her website. "In fact, in my experience as an educator, researcher, and parenting expert, you can do your children a world of good by giving them more of a 'free range' Summer – one in which there are more relaxed schedules – versus an over-programmed one."
Gross explained that even if you aren't considering giving up all sense of routine that you should still consider loosening up, because Summer freedom can alleviate some of the stress that may have built up throughout the rest of the year. "Children display the same stress-related health problems that their over-stressed parents do, except that they don't have those adult coping skills," she wrote. "Also, an over-stressed child is more emotional, and therefore biologically involved in a fight-or-flight system. Thus cortisol is over-produced, which then floods your child's brain and alters its' capacity to remember, learn, and think critically."
These months off school are a great way to combat potential stresses in a way that actually improves learning. "A safe and rich environment in which free range play can occur offers your children the opportunity to test themselves against their environment and to follow the threads of their thoughts and ideas to their conclusion," she wrote. "There is a place for moderation in all things, including extra-curricular activities. Balance is the key to benefit. During the Summer, children should have a chance for a time out, so they can take time in."
Here's how you can help your child have more of a free-range Summer this year without completely changing your parenting style.
Don't always have the answer for them.
The first step to a more free-range Summer is leaving room in their schedule, but then what? Empower your child to not only entertain themselves, but also to explore the world around them instead of always having a list of ideas ready the moment they say they're bored. Take a step back and give them the freedom to independently come up with their own free play.
Unplug them when you can.
Even if you can't cut the majority of organized activities from your child's Summer routine, you can help to ensure that the free time he or she does have is spent in imaginative play that can enhance learning. By removing that electronic crutch during their "free" time, you're encouraging them to get out and explore. "High levels of learning are reached through play, because it is in this relaxed and creative state that many 'Ah-ha' moments and leaps in learning occur can occur," Gross wrote.
Give them a break, even if you can’t take one.
Gross recommends that parents give their children a "vacation" or change of scenery at some point during the Summer, even if they can't take off of work in order to break up some of their family's Summer schedule. "Perhaps they can let children have some time with grandma and grandpa, even a babysitter, so that they don’t have to go to a structured environment," she wrote.
Set boundaries and then step back.
Part of finding success with free-range parenting is letting go and taking a step back to allow your child to learn for themselves. However, this will never work if you're uncomfortable and keep jumping in. Find a compromise that works for you and identify some boundaries — even if one is just that they can't leave the backyard — with your child so that you can build trust with them and they can have a sense of freedom that doesn't leave you feeling completely unsettled.
Don’t sweat the mess.
If you get upset over muddy clothes or scrapes, you're going to discourage your child from the types of unstructured adventures that prompted them. Instead, check yourself from your initial reaction and remember the benefits of this time (unless, of course, they really need your assistance or are badly hurt).
Rethink social media.
Many parents feel pressure or guilt based on what they see on social media. Instead of feeling like an inadequate parent or having guilt over how your child should be spending his or her time, make yourself take a step back. "There is the competition of social pressure on parents who want the best for their children,” Gross wrote. “As a result, parents have taken this extra-curricular approach to an over-curricular extreme. Ironically, all of this over-programming stresses your children.”