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Question
I saw the article on MSN about "free range" kids in Maryland being investigated by Child Services for letting their children walk home from school. I am so upset because I let my 10 year old walk home from school. What do I do?

Answer
Darleen Claire Wodzenski, Parent Educator & Lecturer
Darleen Claire Wodzens  
Dear Donna

You bring up a really good question. Just the fact that you are asking this question tells me how responsible and attentive you are to your child's safety needs.

The article about 'free range' parenting from the Washington Post is rather frightening. It looks like a child protection agency is investigating a family for letting a six and ten year old walk home from school a distance of one mile. This is deeply concerning to me for many reasons.

I believe that most parents are great protectors of their children's safety. I know you are a caring and concerned parent. So if you made the decision that your 10 year old child is safe to walk home, then it is very likely that you have made a good decision. Certainly, there are tens of thousands of latch key children who walk home from school through inner city communities, dealing with drug dealers and addicts on the way. This would not be an ideal situation, yet it is a harsh reality faced by many single and low income families who simply do not have another choice.

On the up side, however, there are many benefits to allowing your child to develop the skills and awareness to be able to walk home from school. A primary benefit is the exercise! The children who ride the school bus or who are picked up by parents or caregivers miss out on the wonderful opportunity to stretch their legs, maybe skip or run, and jump high to touch a hanging tree branch or sign. The walk home from school can also be a wonderful emotional release and allow children the opportunity to mentally and emotionally get out of 'school mode' and into 'at-home mode'. These are all important benefits to the child.

As I am sure you know, the challenges associated with children walking home include being picked up by an offender, injured or involved in an accident, being approached by a drug pusher, being taunted or attacked by a bully, and even getting lost. These are real and serious dangers that all children face when they walk from one location to another. Each child must also be evaluated for maturity, awareness, and readiness before introducing the idea of walking home alone. Children who are distant and dreamy may not be aware enough of their surroundings and environment in order to be safe walking home alone. The distance from home to school is also a concern; younger children are naturally less able to handle long walks with a heavy backpack. Parents must carefully evaluate the walking route to determine if it is safe. Neighbors, local police, and school officials can be interviewed about the incidence of crimes in the area and their opinion about whether the area is safe enough for a child to walk home alone.

Children can be introduced to protective factors that may help keep then safe, such as carrying a cell phone (even if it does not have paid service - as long as it has a charged battery, the child can call 911 for help). Children can learn safety rules about strangers and learn never to get into cars with others without specific permission (remember that many abductions are committed by adults who are known by the child). Parents can help the child identify safe places to seek shelter or ask for help if they are in danger or afraid; examples of safe places include fire and police stations, homes of neighbors you know and trust, and businesses that are child-safe and child-friendly. The child can be introduced to these safety neighbors so they know whom to approach if in need of help. Parents can introduce children to the route for walking, practice walking with the child until familiarity is established, and then shadow children the first few times they walk home to provide a safety net in case the child becomes lost or confused. Whenever possible, children can be encouraged to walk home with siblings and peers, as long as each child is aware of safety rules and is independently capable of walking home alone. Asking one child to supervise another child on a walk home is never a good idea; the only exception may be much older siblings (at least age 14) who are responsible and attentive.

As a loving and concerned parent, I am sure you have carefully considered these and many more factors related to your child's safety during the walk to and from school. I know that your child is getting lots of great exercise, and is very lucky to have such a committed and caring mother!!! If you have any questions about your particular situation, feel free to shoot me back a follow-up question! Or better yet, talk with your local law enforcement and school officials to get the scoop!!

Happy parenting!

Darleen Claire Wodzenski, MS ESE, QPPE

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Darleen Claire Wodzenski

Expertise

Gifted children require a bit more creativity and flexibility when it comes to parenting, education and child rearing. Please ask questions pertaining to parenting, self-esteem and body issues, relationships, social development, learning models and educational philosophies, family and sibling issues, dating, emotional development, self-harming, philosophy and spirituality, etc... My Brain-Based approach to raising and educating gifted learners reflects a blended philosophy that draws on graduate training and education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Exceptional Student Education, Ministerial Studies, and Neurophysiology. Perhaps most important is that I am a mother and grandmother who has raised a few gifted children in my time. I look forward to learning about your gifted and talented learner! Happy Parenting!

Experience

My greatest experiences have been as a parent, grandparent, teacher, counselor, and interventionist for children with gifted or talented abilities. I love to incorporate brain-based strategies into parenting and education. My goal is to support parents and families to help their gifted and talented children become more joyful and effective in school and in life.

Organizations
The Orchard Human Services, Inc.; http://orchardhumanservices.org/ PsychoNeuroEducational Institute, LLC (PNEinstitute.org) Amma Academy; http://www.ammaacademy.com/ American Counseling Association; http://counseling.org Universal Brotherhood Movement, Inc. ; http://universalbrotherhood.org/ Council for Exceptional Children; http://www.cec.sped.org/am/template.cfm?section=Home

Publications
YourTango.com, ParentBlog.org, Envision Health, The Local News

Education/Credentials
I have enjoyed a rich academic background, including a Masters Degree in Exceptional Student Education from Nova Southeast University; my Doctorate Degree is in Divinity, and I also completed a 4 year Pre-med Program with an additional year of Doctorate level study in Health Sciences. I will be receiving a Masters Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in fall of 2015, and also have had extensive experience teaching piano and dance, as well as tutoring college from undergraduate to graduate level. The sum total of my experiences, education and life has left me with a tender heart for gifted children. Their special gifts can leave them vulnerable in unusual ways, and we need to handle them with kid gloves so that their innocence and inner beauty are preserved as they grow into adulthood. I enjoy drawing from a diverse background in learning models, therapeutic strategies, and parenting techniques to create solutions that are effective, gentle and uplifting. Parenting is a gift that keeps on giving, and even challenges are laced with tender moments and great opportunities to share meaningful experiences with your child.

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