What comes up when you think of the word Free-range? One of the words that would come up is free-range chicken, and the definition of free-range chicken is that the chicken is allowed to freely roam outside of the barn, but within a large fenced area at certain parts of the day.

Freerange parenting is quite close to that definition, parenting that lets the children grow and foster their own independence within a set of parental limits or boundaries. Allowing their children to make their own choices or even in extreme cases, explore on their own with very minimal supervision.

This is the complete almost opposite of the helicopter parenting style, where the parent is consistently monitoring and providing input to their children.

My family and I use a mix of parenting styles, including free-range parenting. One of the biggest ideas that we loved and took from this one was the freedom of choice for my daughter. Aside from some of the mandatory activities and classes that we require our 16-month-old daughter to participate in (eg. swimming to get life-saving skills, cleaning up after her play area and toys, and play dates with other parents for the communication abilities), we really just let her choose what she wants to do. If she wants to go outside, we all go outside to walk or play. If she wants to clean up after herself, we all clean together. For the record, she does wipe the table after she is done eating and cleans up the toys that drop on the floor.

Characteristics Of Free-range Parenting

  • Kids will gradually become more independent
    • Kids are given the opportunity to learn the rules of society.
    • The freedom to allow the children to make certain choices and also experience the natural reactions (both positives and negatives) from them.
  • Parents loosely plan the family’s schedule and not overload preplanned activities so that the child can be free to choose the amount of time spent on an activity, within reason.
  • With this parenting style, it limits the play interaction with personal electronics like computers, smartphones, and television by substituting it with activities that don’t require actively using those personal electronics. Some examples are playing with other kids in the neighborhood playground or playing indoors using some toys, creativity, and imagination.
  • Free-range parents don’t use fear to teach their kids. Your child is strong and yes it can be a dangerous world out there, but if you, as the dad, make 100% sure that the environment that your kids are playing in is safe from anything that can cause serious injury, then getting a small cut or bruise from playing will serve as a good lesson for the child to not get hurt that way again.

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Looking Forward

Why and How To Avoid Being A Free-range Parent

Like many things in the world, you can definitely take this parenting style a little bit too far and this can be a parenting style that doesn’t work for you. Free-range parenting isn’t for everyone, one of the reasons why is what others perceive of you and your parenting style as borderline neglect. By letting your child make some of the choices, you may not feel that your child is making the best choices and decisions.

With free-range parenting, you may or may not be around your children when you let them go out to play, they can possibly pick up some bad behaviors that you don’t want your child to learn. Then you will have to spend that energy to educate them on how their newly learned behavior is inappropriate.

Here is a list of things to do to avoid being a free-range parent:

  • Be a part of your child’s life!
    • Be in the action with your child, that will give you the opportunity to let the child know that you are also interested in what they are doing and wants to join in. It gives them a sense of family involvement.
    • DO NOT be in the center of the action though because if you do, you are just sucking the fun out of it for them. You might get too involved and start being strict about certain aspects of the action while the child just wants to have fun.
  • Get your child involved with your life
    • Both you and your wife are busy parents. Both of you have a lot to do on your plate and you also have to watch over your child. Why not get your child to do some of the work with you? Cleaning, cooking, prepping, grocery shopping, yard work, and even watch designing. You would be amazed at what your child can do.
  • Understand that only giving your child some choices is good, sometimes it’s okay to say “Daddy said we are doing this, so we are doing it, no matter what you say

Benefits and Positives Of Free-range Parenting

Free-range parenting definitely has benefits that you should take and adapt to your own style. Here are some of the takeaways from this parenting style that I think you may want to use.

  • Your kids are more independent
    • My daughter is more often than not, happy to play with her toys by herself. She doesn’t cry immediately when we put her down. After telling her that she should go and play with her toys because both daddy and mommy need to do some housework or cook dinner. She just gives a resounding nod for a yes. She even goes and plays with her stuffed dog toy and read to him.
    • When we go to a play date, once we put her down, she just immediately dashes to go and play. She doesn’t need us to play with her. If she needs something, she will come back and ask for us to join her. We are still able to see her play and she can see us watch her play, which gives her the comfort that we are here and the confidence to keep going forward knowing that we are here for her.
  • Trial and error is one of the best ways to learn from
    • Think of how you were raised when you were young, were your parents watching over your every single step, every single action to make sure you don’t make a mistake? Or were they letting you go out in the world to make some minor mistakes and for you to learn from those mistakes? Maybe you were of neither extremes and you had a blend of both of these.
    • Trial and error are what helped my daughter know the difference between what can hurt her or not. Now she knows that playing with the cabinet doors in the kitchen can hurt her and she knows to not play with them.
    • Another example is as a younger baby (4 months), we show her that we aren’t happy when she pulls on people’s hair. Babies aren’t in full control of their physical motions and strengths and so when they grab onto something, that love to pull that item towards themselves. So when the baby was 4-5 months old, she knows that when she grabs onto anyone’s hair, it is to only touch and to let go gently.
  • Your kids are building confidence in their problem-solving abilities.
    • Confidence is something that you may not have when you were young. I certainly had nearly none when I was a kid. I was so scared and nervous about confronting any problems since I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. My daughter, on the other hand, will face and confront her problems head-on (literally). She is confident in her abilities to handle that problem, and that is something invaluable that will benefit her many years to come.


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