Raising a Free-Range Child

In response to my current Toddlerist (toddler+terrorist) and in preparation for our new baby (Nibbler) I am re-reading The Art Of War. It is full of great parenting advice. The parts that are of particular interest to me today are:

  • Never fight a battle with nothing to win.
  • Winners come to battle having already won, losers come to battle and seek to win.
  • Always leave your enemy a route to retreat.

These three tenets lead me to a free range style of parenting.

Procedure, Over Timetable

During Rockford’s second (now THIRD!!) year of life I have been a laid back parent. The fact that he has been healthy helps make that easier. I let almost all of his time be unstructured:

  • He grazes instead of sitting down for lunch
  • He plays with junk mail and laundry
  • He can play with anything he asks for as long as he wants (except for the knives)
  • I let him be in a room I am not in, or even go up and down the stairs

In place of having strongly outlined times of day that we do things, we have compartmentalized procedures that can be counted on to happen.

  • If you throw your food, snacks go on hiatus
  • We change our poop diapers in the bathroom
  • After bath time we play in the bed
  • At some point Papa says: “It’s nap time now”

My overall goal is for Rock to be aware of his states and needs, self-regulating, and willing to articulate these things to me. It has worked in some cases, not in others. Still, most of the time, he only gets in my business if he actively has an interaction in mind. Today’s feature image is the product of him being bored with blocks while I was writing this, so he requested “take picture.” Because I had nothing to gain from not taking a break to play his game, I didn’t object to it. After a dozen pictures I told him “I need to go back to writing,” and he was happy to move on to something else, mercifully.

The Destination Is More Important Than The Path

I think the pragmatic outcome is acceptable thus far, but there are definitely parts of my day that are extra work. One of these things is that I find him taking naps in weird places. I will set him down in his bed, in his room, and go about my business–today it was mopping the kitchen. I will actively ignore the fact that he stays in neither zone, as long as he leaves me alone to get some work done. And this happens:

sudden nap

That is where he will be for about an hour (if I am lucky). As much as I would prefer he choose the bed upstairs to sleep, I like that he is comfortable just sacking out next to me when he is sleepy, instead of powering through to total crankiness.

I know that some people think this approach is odd, but I feel like I won: he left me alone while I mopped and he took a nap. I see my best advantage in the war on growing up is my larger view of the field and broader conception of time. By letting him have all the ground that does not impact me, and letting him have the space to figure out that my instructions aren’t about control, I hope that I am building a relationship of trust.

So, as long as he isn’t bothering anyone, I let my little chicken roam free.

One thought on “Raising a Free-Range Child”

  1. I remember well how elliot used to conk out like that! I’d always find him lying facedown somewhere weird, clutching some toy.

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