Thursday, July 02, 2009

How Free Range are YOU?

"Miss Tracey! So and so did thiiissss!!"

"Miss Tracey! He was mean to me!"

"She pushed me! He called me a name! Whine! Whine! Tattle! Tattle!"

OY VEY!!

Seriously, kids. Figure. It. Out. As long as no punches are being thrown, and no one is being verbally abused, DON'T BOTHER ME. I am studiously examining the kitchen tiles or marveling at the color of my coffee. I cannot and will not take sides or be drawn into every petty little argument the children of the neighborhood will undoubtably have.

Remember when we were all little? I grew up on a block of 10 or 12 houses, almost all with kids living in them. We had a church with fields that backed up to our yards and no one had fences. We knew every nook and cranny of that field, the baseball dugout, small hill, church parking lot, and pine trees. When we argued (and OH! Did we argue!) we either figured it out or stomped home, proving how angry we were, only to return to playing later that day.

My own kids have a smaller world to explore. (Though I am constantly reminding Justin that he is allowed to go on bike rides or walk to the park! He is hesitant about venturing into the wilds of our suburban neighborhood...) Our backyard backs up onto the yards of 2 of our close friends and neighbors. Between the 3 houses, there are 11 kids to play with (well, 10 kids. 1 is a tiny baby!). It is INEVITABLE that they will be on top of each other at times. It is inevitable that they will feel cramped and closed in. But it is what it is. They need to play together and be nice to each other. They need to get through their disagreements or take a break.

The worst thing about all of this togetherness, though? The tattling.

I. Hate. Unnecessary. Tattling.

My response to "He's mean! She's not being nice! He's a bully! Blah blah blah!" is something along these lines:

"You are ALL mean sometimes. Remember how it feels and be NICE instead. I am not here to take sides, guys. Figure it out or everyone go home."

This usually kills the conversation. Once they realize I won't take sides, or will make them all go home, the argument either ends or they go home. Since our yard is the only one with a swingset, sandbox, playhouse, random toys scattered about and even trees? They usually figure it out.

Not all parents are happy with this approach. Some feel I should be stepping in to break up the tiffs, and regulate the turns on the swings to avoid anyone's feelings getting "hurt."

Well, guess what? Sometimes, in life? You don't get a turn on the swing. Your feelings get hurt. And you walk home feeling upset. Who among us didn't have their heart broken that their best buddy in the world told them they were Never playing with them again? Who among us didn't grow a bit wiser and stronger from that situation? Maybe, just maybe, we learned a smidge about negotiating turns, and listening to different ideas? Maybe, just maybe, we understood a bit better that not everyone will want to play/talk/dress/learn the same way? Perhaps we were on the way to gaining life skills that would benefit us in adulthood? If an adult were to be watching out for me every time I had to stand up for myself, where would I be today?

I am loving Lenore Skenazy's site, Free Range Kids. The basis is pretty simple. Freedom for our kids like we had growing up. Ignoring the fearmongering of the media and letting our kids LIVE their lives instead of placing safety cushions all around them, just in case they fall. Letting them have those moments of pride when they do something themselves. Giving them the benefit of the doubt (based upon their skills and maturity) that they can make the right decision, all by themselves.

I may not be able to give my kids much monetarily, but if I can give them independence and confidence? THAT will be something which will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
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