Children should be allowed to explore on their own.
by Shelley Abreu
September 10, 2009
E ach morning, after my two girls wake me, I shuffle out to the kitchen to fix juice for them and coffee for me. As I fill the coffee pot and their sippy cups, I stare out the window at my favorite part of our home: the small river that cuts through our backyard.
This morning as I look out, I watch a pair of mallard ducks ride the gentle current back and forth. The female duck tries to paddle upstream to our neighbor’s but gets caught in a swirl of water and is forced back to her partner’s side. Elise, my almost three-year old, laughs as she watches. Then she asks if she and her five-year-old sister, Julia, can go down back and fish.
Up until a few weeks ago, I would have denied her request. A chronic worrier, I don’t let my children outside without close supervision. But with a new baby in the house, I’m not able to accompany them outside as often as they would like. My husband, however, is less cautious. Just recently I returned from a morning out, to find him in the kitchen with doors and windows open. The girls were outside by themselves casting their hook-less fishing rods into the river. Before I was able to chastise him for his reckless disregard for their safety, he convinced me they were completely fine. He could see and hear them perfectly well. Furthermore, he insisted, both girls know to keep out of the water.
I agreed to let them stay. I took over in the kitchen keeping watch as I cleaned and prepared dinner for later. After an hour, the girls still content playing in the yard and by the river, I moved into the bedroom and opened the windows. They played for another hour as I folded laundry. When they came inside, they were ecstatic over their newfound freedom. I had to admit, I was just as ecstatic. For once, I was able to get something done without feeling guilty for parking them in front of the TV.
Emboldened by our success, I’ve continued to let them go outside alone. I keep the doors and windows open and keep to the rooms I can watch them from, but after a few days I’ve relaxed enough to pop into other rooms, to fetch the vacuum, a baby toy, or our cordless phone. I’m still mindful of the potential hazards of the river, but I also think I’ve been underestimating my children’s ability to handle a little freedom.
When I was three and my brother was seven we would walk to a local Country Store about a mile away. After we purchased some candy, we’d head over to a pond behind the store where my brother would fish while I played on some rocks along the shore’s edge.
One time, just as my brother was casting his line behind his shoulder, I sprang up in the air to jump onto a nearby rock. His hook snagged my chin as I landed. My brother leaped over to me and carefully extracted the hook. I was scared. But he reassured me I was totally fine. “Don’t cry,” he said, “It’s no big deal, I’ll get it out.” I didn’t cry. He got it out. And everything was fine.