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Join us to discuss Summer Safety on Kidpower's June "Turning Problems into Practices" Free Coaching Call.After discovering how easy and useful it was to have large-group conference calls with the Hands and Voices OUR Children Project and the Positive Coaching Alliance, we decided to start hosting our own free regular conference calls, and held our first one on May 5. The name, “Turning Problems into Practices Coaching Call” is inspired by the many requests we have received from parents and teachers for phone coaching.

For our first call, we had over 70 people sign up to discuss the topic, Free-Range Parenting and Safety, and about 30 of those registered called in. Our call system lets people “raise their hand” during the call to ask a question, and Irene discussed situations with several different callers in the hour:

  • How to set reasonable boundaries with neighborhood kids who are constantly knocking on the door and asking to play, so that there’s time for kids to get homework done or have a playdate with just one or two friends if they want.
  • How to prepare a ten-year-old who wants to walk to school alone on a busy street with no sidewalk and through a secluded park.
  • How to help a teen daughter feel more confident after she became uncomfortable with walking on her own in places where people who seem mentally unstable might approach her.
  • How to prevent kids who are walking on their own from being picked up by the police.
  • How to support young people in taking positive action to stop rumors that are harming their reputations at school.

Here is what the one caller wrote afterwards, (with her permission to use her feedback publicly):

I really want to thank you for today’s call. It was incredibly helpful and grounding. I especially love your emphasis on building skills to reduce anxiety—very helpful! Today as we scootered to school, my daughter said, “Me walking to school by myself is a really big deal.”

I asked, “in a good way or a bad way,” fearing that I had made too much out of it.

She said, “Neither. Just a really big deal.”

So she’s appreciating that I’m hearing her request for more independence, and readying herself to handle it. I’m going to convey your comments about kids and phones to my husband, who’s VERY old-school. I think it’s a strong argument. Especially, “The world has changed, and we have to change too.”

summer-safety-question-boxI really love the practicality with which you balance the need for safety and for independence. It’s not guess-work, it’s not open the floodgates, it’s systematically review, assess, and move forward. Very reassuring!

The full recording of Irene’s coaching call about Free-Range Parenting and Safety, and a summary of the questions, practices and resources that were discussed is available below.

“Turning Problems into Practices” Coaching Call with Kidpower’s Founder Irene van der Zande. May 5, 2015 Call Topic: Free-Range Parenting and Safety (58 minutes)

Summary of the Questions and Practices discussed, and Links to Resources:

Introduction: When we talk about safety with “free-range” parenting – what we are looking at is how to balance the tension between freedom and safety as our kids move out into the world and go more places on their own.

Goal: We want to balance the growing independence of our kids with giving them safety skills and knowledge that match their developmental stage.  For example, to walk to school on their own, they need to be at the appropriate developmental stage, which means being mentally and physically able to avoid problems in specific situations; starting with the ability to focus for the amount of time it requires to walk all the way to school or back with out getting distracted.

Question/Problem: “Free range parenting in our neighborhood is resulting in a lot of door knocking as kids go around the neighborhood to see which kids can play. When we are trying to get homework done, this is very interruptive, even if we tell the kids we are not able to play, others still come to knock and it is frustrating to have to answer the door lots of times. In addition, there are so many kids in the neighborhood that sometimes my kids get overwhelmed when too many kids come to play. How can I manage this without hurting anyone’s feelings or having them feel left out?”

Practice/Solution discussion: Have a plan and make sure everyone in the neighborhood knows the plan. You can set certain hours for playing, or ask kids to respect a sign on the door to remind kids. Like “ Homework in progress, please no knocking.”  Or “House is full.”

It is important to remember that, you can’t always avoid hurt feelings, but you can manage them.  If a parent gets upset about their kids being left out or thinks the signs are not welcoming, first make a bridge in boundary setting by saying, “Your kids are great, and we like having them over to play – and we are overwhelmed at certain times with the number of interruptions, so we need to find a way to overcome this so playtime works for everyone.  We are going to put up a sign when we are not available to have the door knocking. In addition, if there are kids over and more come over, we may put a “house is full” sign on the door, not because we want to leave anyone out, but we want to support our children’s request to only play with 1 or 2 friends at time.“

Sometimes when things change, people might get upset, so plan for that with a role play where you tell the parents your concerns about getting overwhelmed, explain the plan, and ask for their input and help in implementing the plan.

Question/Problem: “I have been reading on the news where a 6 year old and older sibling were walking on their own and the police picked them up. As my child gets ready for more independence, what can I do in a city environment where we don’t know all the neighbors or if they would call the police on a child walking on their own. What can I do to make sure my child won’t get bothered by neighbors or police?”

Practice/Solution discussion: When your child is ready, then my suggestion is to reach out to as many neighbors as possible, and the police, to let them know who you are, that your child will be on their own at given times, what the plan is, and what the child has permission to do on their own, so they do not panic. Walk the route with the child first, introduce yourself to people on the route, in the stores, and other areas along the way. Tell your child where they can get help if needed. Say, “Hello, my kids are going to be walking here, if you have any concerns, here is my number, give me a call.”   Reaching out to police can be hard, but most are just trying to keep everyone safe and do the right thing.  Communication with the community is a big part of preventing problems and finding solutions.

Also, the laws are confusing about what age is okay to be left alone or be on your own in different cities and states.  Let your child know that even though someone is in a uniform and has an official looking car, they are still a stranger. They need to be polite and not run away if a person in a uniform stops them, and a child can say, “I need to tell my parents where I am, I am going to call them right now.  Before I go with you, I need to call 911 to make sure you are a police officer, because I don’t have a way to know.” Then practice with the child so that they can stay calm and are prepared, because it will be hard, but practicing makes it easier.

Question/Problem:  “My daughter wants to walk to school on her own, but there is a busy street with no sidewalks and there is a secluded park she has to walk through with homeless people living there. How can I prepare her for this?”

Practice/Solution discussion: To prepare kids for success, walk the route with her so you can see the potential places where there are safety issues and discuss with her the strategy and practice skills for avoiding problems; such as where she can go to get out of the road if a car is coming too close, or which houses and stores along the way she can go to for help. Consider allowing her to have a phone for safety – there are plans that are very limited. There are so few public phones these days and if the route is secluded in some parts, it may be the best option if she needs help in an emergency. Discuss with her that you will co-pilot until she is ready and walk a certain distance behind her; allowing her to gain the experience and confidence, while giving you peace of mind that she knows what to do in the possible safety situations. Be sure to also practice with her friend who will walk with her.  You can say to her, “for my peace of mind, we are going to practice and you are going to show me.”  Pose “what if” scenarios and have her answer them.  Put your agreements about where she can go, use of the phone, etc., in writing and make sure the consequences are clear if the agreement is broken.

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Question/Problem: “Our young teen daughter has been walking on her own. After 4-5 weeks of doing this, she is now having anxiety and no longer wants to walk this specific route on her own anymore. She doesn’t like the way some of the people are looking at her and some people do strange things, like walking with a stroller and no child in it. She is refusing to walk anywhere on her own. I am concerned that learning about the possible problems, she has become even more scared. She is also worried about the male adults, even if they are not threatening her, and other kids walking as well. She is not sure how to handle this. How can I help her regain her confidence?”

Practice/Solution discussion:  Sometimes when you raise awareness, it can raise anxiety. The best thing to do is to keep practicing until she feels more confident and tell her that learning the safety rules is part of growing up. There is a process for developing independence and helping her get used to dealing with people looking at her and that some look different than she is used to is part of that. In order to practice effectively, you need to walk the route with her and see the same things that she is seeing.  Then you can practice the skills on how to handle specific situations.  For example, if someone asks for spare change – you can practice having her keep walking with calm, respectful confidence and say, “Sorry, no.” Or  “No thanks.”  When she walks with you a few times, you will model for her what to do. This gives her something to say and do rather than just “wishing” they were not there. You can say to her, “Part of growing up is knowing how to deal with people when they make you feel uncomfortable with what they say, or do, or what their appearance is.”  Real-world practice with you and her together is key – and you will figure this out together.

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Question/Problem: “I’m a professional counselor in middle school and have a female student who has bullying issues where former friends are spreading rumors about her. How can I help her, as she does not want to come to school anymore and it is affecting her learning?  I would like for her to have some tools where she feels she can handle this?”

Practice/Solution discussion:  Gather more information: Who are the friends? What are they saying? So that you can give her the tools to practice with for these specific situations. Identify with her, who are the adults she can go to for helpt. There are some good Emotional Safety tools she can use – it is important to help her take the power out of the words that are being said about and to her. Here are three of the emotional safety practices you can work on:

1.      One practice is to take the specific mean words and say them out loud, then say the word for her favorite food. Pair them over and over again – out loud – and soon the power goes out of the hurtful words. The meanest words in our own language can sound completely benign if said in a language we don’t know – and understanding that the words themselves only have the power we invest in them is an important idea to protect our emotional safety.

2.      The Kidpower Trash Can technique:  Help her practice physically throwing the mean words into an imaginary trash can instead of letting them get stuck in her heart or her head.  Then replace the mean words with kind words about herself to build herself up.

3.      There are some peer pressure communication techniques that we can use as well, such as saying to a peer: “I feel sad, when you say mean things to me or spread rumors, would you please stop.”  There might be negative reactions and preparing her for this will help – read our Teenpower Boundaries article for specific boundary setting phrases, common ways people react and specific responses to their reactions that keep the boundary without escalating the situation.

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Published: May 19, 2015   |   Last Updated: May 19, 2015

Beth (she/her/hers) is the Web Communications Director and a Senior Program Leader for Kidpower International. She is a former journalist, now writing & editing coach, business technology and strategy consultant, child protection and gender inclusion advocate, and has been a Kidpower (for all-ages) instructor since 1992.

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