How Much Freedom Should Young Children Have?
The first national study of Children’s Mobility in Ireland was carried out in 2015 by a research team in Mary Immaculate College Limerick. The aim was to look at and assess the level of freedom children have to make journeys on their own. They found that children have considerably less mobility than previous generations. For example, the research found that over three-quarters (79%) of primary school children and almost two-thirds (64%) of second-level students are accompanied by an adult while travelling to school.
Overall they recommended a child-centered approach to freedom and one that centered on their rights. This is great in theory, but in practice how do we start a child centered approach without compromising safety?
Mum of two teenagers, Sinead, filled me on how she was dealing with the transition into freedom and had built a solid base of communication around setting boundaries:
'When they started walking home from school, they knew that there was a certain time that they had to be home, and they had to get home by that time. There was an understanding that had been arranged beforehand. Mobile phones have made communication easier, but if they are going out we make sure that everything is arranged ahead of time. If they initiate new changes, you don’t want to stand in their way.'
Of course, if we cast our own minds back, there was noticeably less emphasis on safety, but these were the days when you could probably traverse the country without hitting fifth gear on the car, cars were slower and used less often. For the other children of the eighties out there, rest assured, I do think if our parents were on motorways as much as we are now, they would have made us wear seat belts.
Or had proper car seats. Or never would have overloaded the car. Well, probably anyway. Things seem to have swung drastically in Ireland from the free range end of the spectrum to the helicopter. The free range approach would, for example, would suggest leaving a six-year-old to play on their own in a playground while you hop to the shop, in comparison to the helicopter approach who would be no more than three foot away at any given point.
But as I clip my helmet on my six-year-old, it crosses my mind, we did all survive without helmets and also that maybe a little bit of caution isn’t a bad thing. It strikes me that if we care enough to research it and think about how we parent and how it can be improved, we are already on the right path. Also, that a bit of independence will do no harm either. The freedom that you choose to give your child will, of course, depend on where you live, how much time you have and your child’s personality, but here are some suggestions for ways in which you can implement small changes to foster independence and trust.
I’m starting with everyone putting on their own helmets…
Up to Age 4
- Pairing socks
- Help load the washing machine
- Bringing their dishes to the sink
- Folding their own clothes
- Buying sweets in the newsagent
- Picking posters/artwork for their rooms
- Ordering food themselves
- In charge of making sure you stick to the shopping list in the shop
- Picking and wrapping presents
- Setting the table
The study on children’s mobility can be found here.
Does your child walk to school? Do you live in an area where this is possible? Let us know in the comments!