Free-Range Parenting Can Make Your Toddler Smarter

toddler playgroundI had one of those toddlers who hates putting on a coat. Actually, I think they all come that way. I remember reading in one of my child-rearing books that when my son said "no" to the coat I should calmly wrestle him down and put the coat on him: That means "yes." Obviously I was strong enough to pull that off -- well, just barely. But I went a totally different way. I let him walk out coatless.

Keep in mind it doesn't get dangerously cold where I live. We hover around the 30s and 40s for most of the winter. But for me, letting my son take minor physical risks like this and learn from experience has been more important than teaching him unconditional obedience, especially when he was a toddler.


When it comes to wearing a coat, my son caught on pretty quickly. I always carried the coat out with us, and he'd tottle down the block, maybe a couple blocks, before he would realize that he was uncomfortably cold and maybe that coat was not such a terrible inconvenience after all. Meanwhile, I'd endure some of those accusatory stares from strangers. HOW could I risk my son's health like that?

Well, I'm happy to report that my son has a ridiculously robust immune system. Going coatless did not make him sick, ever. It just made him sensible.

I've let my son test out his physical limits in many other ways. I've let him jump off playground equipment, sit on backless stools, touch the hot radiator, and climb his loft bed from the back end. We've seen some scratches and bruises, but so far we've had no broken bones or burns. And obviously, I've stopped him from any activities that could cause serious injury. As a result, he's incredibly cautious and knows his limits. And yes, if I had a daughter I would be the same way.

Maybe it's because I grew up in the western states with a large family, but we don't focus on hovering and protecting our son from every possible injury. Yet here in my East-Coast, urban neighborhood it's not unusual to see toddlers wearing a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads just to ride a tricycle down the sidewalk. I get that instinct to protect. You don't want your child to experience a painful moment ever in their life. But what I've learned is that toddlers learn from little scrapes. And I think the lessons are worth it.

Do you let your toddler take small physical risks? How do you judge what's not dangerous?


Image via Mary McKinnon/Flickr

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