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.