Hummingbird Parenting: Bring Back the Joy of the Great Outdoors

Hummingbird parents allow safe independence
Hummingbird parents allow safe independence

If you believe everything you hear from the news media, the great outdoors can be full of dangers just waiting to strike—from Lyme disease to predators, both human and feral, to poison ivy.

But the risks of helicopter parenting your children to the point that they become stay-at-home kids can deprive them of both memories and independence.

Bethe Almeras, director of Education & Outreach for Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play and author behind The Grass Stain Guru, says the answer may be in hummingbird parenting—keeping an eye on your children, while letting them explore and commune with nature on their own.

“I call myself a hummingbird parent. I tend to stay physically distant to let them explore and problem solve, but zoom in at moments when safety is an issue (which isn’t very often).”

The key, according to Richard Louv, chairman of the Children and Nature Network, is to learn to enjoy being outside while taking a common sense approach to safety.

The first step is to head outdoors together.  Louv suggests getting together with like-minded families to hike, garden and do other outdoor activities together as a group.  “Nature clubs for families are beginning to catch on across the country,” he writes.  “We hear from family nature club leaders that when families get together, the kids tend to play more creatively.”

If your child is old enough to head out without you, encourage the buddy system.  Also, get to know your neighbors and encourage them to share the responsibility of watching out for each other’s kids. When it comes to stranger danger, teach your children to be wary of specific actions or warning signs. These lessons are far more concrete than vague “don’t talk to strangers” message.

By using common sense, engaging our friends and communities, recognizing our fears, and allowing our children to take reasonable risks, we can begin to take back the outdoors enrich our inner selves.

Image: JonF728/Flickr

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