Saturday 21 April 2018

Why not just leave our kids alone to get on with the business of being children

Christine Doran,

Why not just leave our kids alone to get on with the business of being children. A little neglect goes a long way, you know.

My friends and I have a parenting style we like to call Benign Neglect parenting. It really does exist  - we didn’t make it up. It’s pretty simple. We leave our kids alone to get on with the business of being children. A little neglect goes a long way, you know.

Now, I don’t mean that we head on out down the town while our children roam the neighbourhood  like a pack of wild animals. We don’t send them outside at eight in the morning with a sixpence in their pockets and their shoes on a string round their necks and tell them not to come back till  dinnertime. But we do give them some freedom, within reason, as much as we can, and we let them  play without intervention unless they really need someone to step in.

Your parents, in fact, might recognise this. They might consider it perfectly normal. But in these  days of helicopter parenting, sometimes it’s hard for a parent to step back and stop playing with the  kid for a few minutes. Stop engaging them, stop educating them, stop trying to help them learn to read at six months or become an Olympic swimmer at three.


Children have a lot of work to do. They work by playing. As they play, they are observing, making  predictions, and carrying out experiments. They are using all their senses. They’re finding patterns  and seeing shapes and colours. They are learning to interact with others, to give and take, to  understand when to stand up for themselves and when to let it go, to negotiate. They’re busy. Their  neurons are firing and connecting and they are finding their place in the world. They don’t need a  grown-up shoving the world down their throat every minute. And they don’t need to be protected from everything that might hurt them even just a little bit, either.


So on the playground, my friends and I don’t help and don’t hinder. We try not to say “Be careful,”  as our little snowflake teeters precariously, because they’re busy concentrating on teetering. We  don’t show them how to climb things they can’t climb: when they’re ready, they’ll climb them. If  they’ve assessed the risks and decided it’s not worth it, we let them make that decision. We step in, of course, when someone starts waving a stick around or lies down on the slide and won’t budge while an irate queue builds up on the steps, but as much as we can we wait and see how the kids are going to solve this themselves. We’re still there, watching, within reach.


But we’re also showing our children, as we chat among ourselves and - gasp - take our eyes off  them for a moment - that we have our own lives and things to do. We are letting them know that  they are responsible for their own decisions and their own bodies. We are showing them that the parents work as a team: if I’m facing the wrong way to see my little one about to take a header off  the climbing frame, I trust that one of the other mums will step into the breach. They always do,  because I do the same for theirs.


Children can learn so much from being allowed to play on their own - alone, or in a group, inside or  out. Take a look at Lenore Skenazy’s blog, read up on free-range parenting, and sit down with a cup  of tea and a good book. You’ve earned it.


This blogpost originally appeared on is a new take on parenting websites, covering a wide range of topics relevant to real Irish parents and the highs and lows of raising children in 21st century Ireland.  Find them also on Twitter and Facebook.


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