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Playground Equipment Blog
Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Letting Kids Be Kids

Every parent knows the term and dreads being called it: the helicopter parent. And yet, for as much as we all intend to take a hands-off approach to parenting and encourage independence as soon as the little ones can walk, we still catch ourselves hovering above, watching every step, worrying over every little daring play choice the kiddies make.

That isn’t just bad for our stress level as parents, it’s bad for the kids, too. There’s tons of research that proves kids need free play.

That means play that isn’t guided by nervous wreck Mom and paranoid Dad. Kids have to play and play independently in order to learn and grow up. It’s a crucial part of development. Letting kids explore the world helps them get to know it on their own terms, in their own way. In other words: we’ve got to back off and let kids be kids, for their own good.

While it’s no excuse to be neglectful, most modern parents could stand to teach themselves a few lessons for once, namely, how to chill out.

And that’s what we’re here to do. If you want to cool your helicoptering jets, try to follow the advice below to calm your worries and prepare your kids for the work they need to do in their free play.

Build Up Their Survival Skills

We’re not talking about teaching them to survive in the woods alone for a week (although, it doesn’t hurt to know how…maybe when they’re a little older), we’re talking about the basics of how we adults get through our day-to-day lives.

If we’ve got one basic job as parents (beyond just keeping the kiddos safe), it’s teaching them how to live without us. So, make it a focal point in your parenting.

Kids need to know how to talk to other people, how to speak respectfully, how to react to bullies, and how to deal with dangerous situations. They also need to know how to behave responsibly, how to respond with words instead of violence, and how to play in a safe manner.

The better you teach kids lessons like these, the more you can feel comfortable that they can handle the tough situations that come up when they run off to take on the world on their own.
Keep in mind that this is a continuous process. Just as you aren’t going to stop watching your kids like an obsessive hawk overnight, they aren’t going to absorb these skills right away, especially at a young age. This is a process you work through together over the long-term, but as you start seeing improvements, you may also see a general relaxation of your sense of vigilance.

Draw the Bigger Picture for Them

Here’s something we tend to forget about kids these days: they understand far more about the world than we give them credit for. We don’t have to dumb everything down.

Of course, that isn't an open invitation to spill all the dark secrets of adulthood into their ear all at once. There are moments they will need the harsh realities of life softened, but you can be confident if you patiently show them the general contours of the world, they will understand, and they will respond. In fact, they’ll respond better because you spoke to them honestly and on a more mature level.

So, while you’re teaching them how to survive in the big bad world without you (for at least five minutes), you can also teach them why they need to know all that. Explain to them how accidents can happen, why you worry about accidents, why it’s important they follow all the lessons you’re teaching them.

In general, just learn how to talk to your kids in an effective manner that relates how you feel, why you worry, and why they should behave in a certain way.

Again, they won’t get it all at once. They will make mistakes in their learning, as we all do, but they will respond to this approach over time.

Find the Parks You Can Trust and Trust Them

Many of us have nightmares about letting our eyes off the kids for an instant when we get to the park. Our protective (and over-protective) minds race to find all the potential dangers within reach of our little darlings. There are streams that aren’t blocked off where kids could tumble in. The playground equipment hasn’t been maintained and there are areas where you worry a kid could fall. There’s no border between the park and a busy street.

How on earth can a loving parent take their eyes off their kids when there are so many threats?

Well, if nothing else, that kind of environment certainly makes it harder. So, make your life easier and find a playground and park that you feel more comfortable and safe in. If your area has multiple parks within a reasonable distance, give each of them an audition.

Look for high quality and safe playground equipment and areas that meet all your safety concerns. You can use a playground safety checklist to see if one of the local parks makes the grade. If they do, you should be able to relax a little more.

Take a Seat on a Park Bench

Here’s the best part of landing your parenting helicopter for a bit: you get to take a break. If you’ve taught your kids to play safely, behave well and safely, and checked the play area for safety, then give yourself a hand (and a nice cup of coffee) and take a seat on the park bench for a bit.

In other words, just let the kids play. Importantly, that doesn’t mean to just leave them to their own devices and abandon them for hours in the park. You should still be near and keeping general tabs on them. Learning how to actively watch while still backing off is an important part of your parental education at this point. You want to be close and aware, in case there is something that goes wrong, but you can also take that crucial step back that gives kids the chance to experience some of that free play on their own and with their friends.


It may not seem like much, but getting that extra bit of space between you and your children can be incredibly helpful and therapeutic. That little extra time to yourself, that little extra time for their play, can make it easier to manage your stress while helping them develop. And, as a bonus, the kids may even start behaving better and respecting their boundaries more. Once you put a little trust in them and in your park, they’ll feel the extra responsibility and respond to it.

It may not be easy breaking a long and deeply ingrained habit of helicopter parenting, but committing to letting your kids be kids is possible, with just a little extra focus on helping them grow up.
Written by: Ben Thompson

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