I am one of those people who lets their kids run around in public. I am, I can’t help it, for better or for worse, they do. Sometimes I feel embarrassed about it, sometimes I feel like it’s my right, sometimes I feel like I am doing the best for my children by letting them do it, sometimes I just plain don’t care what others think about it. But, whatever way you cut the pie, my kids run loose.
I should clarify that I keep an eye on them all (most) of the time, and that I don’t let them run loose up and down the halls of a mall or anything. If we are some place where I think it’s a possibility that they will be lost or abducted, I, of course, keep them close. When my husband and I took Elizabeth to Honduras when she was 2, I was freakish about telling him over and over again that in the airports, we needed to be ultra careful to keep her within arms length so that there would be absolutely no chance of her getting taken as she was (is) so incredibly cute, trusting, and personable. But, when we are in the local restaurant or library, I admit, I let them wander. And in the local restaurant, that does sometimes include a little bit of running for the littlest one.
Let me get this straight too, I don’t encourage the running, per se, but I can’t help it if the toddler boy has lots of energy directly after having a large meal. I don’t really allow the older one to run (she instead skips or “gallops” or finds some other movement that’s not quite running, but close to…). Nor do I let the kids go at it for an hour, or even twenty minutes, it mostly occurs right after we eat, as we are good-bying and putting our left-overs into those lovely Styrofoam boxes and paying the bill. Also, if we are in a more upscale restaurant (as though we have the money to go to one of those…), running is completely nixed.
But, I don’t mind the running. Actually, as I said, I allow it. It started with my daughter: when she was a toddler, I wanted her to be independent and to investigate everything. Sometimes we ran, sometimes we went slo-o-o-owly so she could check out whatever interested her little toddler eyes and hands. And she sure was interested in everything. By going this way, she quickly learned to walk on the sidewalk, and could go along without having to hold my hand every second. (Don’t assume that I let her cross driveways or roads on her own!)
Elizabeth is pretty feisty and very independent, and encouraging that independence let her bloom in a very self-confident flower. I let her take the lead, I let her look at things, but also move her body in ways that she felt comfortable with. I didn’t see the harm in letting her skip along the aisles of the store or to run around the restaurant and learn what a restaurant does and how it is set up. Now, at five, her vocabulary is huge, she even knows the meanings of some words that I don’t know. She is interested in learning and in the world at large. She can hold a conversation with a child or an adult. She knows what she likes and what she doesn’t. She knows when she is being treated fairly or unfairly. She is friendly to people – on her own terms, but smart enough to never go off with someone, as far as I can tell. She has a conscious. She knows how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, how birds build nests, more about motorcycles and dirt bikes than I do. She can identify local trees and wildflowers and song birds. She can plant a seed and make it grow. She can give detailed directions and instructions on how to get some place or how to do something.
Was I wrong in letting her investigate how things work, even if that meant letting her run around a little? As well as learning how things work, letting her have a little freedom also taught her that I trust that location, I trust those people. Is trust so bad? I don’t force her to greet people if she doesn’t want to. I don’t force her to hug even her family good-bye if she isn’t feeling it. Her body is her body. Yet, our whole society is filled with a fear of other people. Indeed, terrible things have happened to children in recent history, I can’t imagine my child being abducted, I couldn’t live with it, but should I walk around and act like everyone is scary, especially here in my small town?
Actually, part of what sparked me to write this post was going to a little toddler meet-n-greet the other day. The idea of the program was for the kids to get together and play, but when I got there, the mothers didn’t really encourage the kids to play together, but stayed in the thick of things, and didn’t speak to each other. What kind of example is that for the kids, I wondered. How can our kids learn to be inviting to new friends when we are not? Indeed, some people are shy, but *shrug* I don’t know. I couldn’t say I made any new friends from the event.
Unsurprisingly, the event involved my toddler son running around. He just can’t be contained. I’ve given up. He loves exploring. He’s not super destructive nor messy when he’s running around, just moving and looking at things, maybe touching things or picking a few things up. I do watch him, someone stays with him, but sometimes he gets out of my sights as I have two children to get ready to go out into the 10 degree weather. I don’t personally think that a little freedom nor exploration will hurt him at this age. I know that he came home and took a good nap after his fun run.
Generally, I can’t decide if it does or doesn’t bother people that my children are running around and exploring. Sometimes it’s obvious that people don’t like it. Sometimes I feel like people are just watching me and wondering, or judging. I got that feeling today when I was trying to sign Elizabeth up for T-ball. I had to fill out a paper – how was I supposed to hold my strong, 25-pound toddler while also writing? Elizabeth helped watch him. He played at the door, he wouldn’t go out, I knew it, and I was watching him. But people kept eyeing me suspiciously.
Should I apologize for letting my kids run around? I don’t feel I should. One of my favorite parenting books is The Secret of Parenting by Anthony Wolf, PhD, and he supports the parent in that there are babies in this world, and since parents have to do errands, they are probably going to take those babies out into the world with them sometimes. On those occasions, it’s also probable that a tantrum may happen. Actually, for a parent to teach their child proper behavior in public, they must also go into public places and do the learning on-site. This will involve situations of crying, screaming, and running, which may be loud and annoying to on-lookers, but essential for the child to learn what proper public-behavior is. It sounds like I’m contradicting myself here, as I myself am letting my children run in public, but the thing is, what I have learned from Dr. Wolf is that since I am not at an up-scale location, public places are game for retired folk, couples who have chosen not to have children, the divorced, teenagers, and *gasp* running, tantruming, crying, screaming or nursing babies. So, if I want my children to be independent and to explore, I will let them. I am courteous and don’t let it carry on for hours or even half-hours, but I’m not going to apologize for letting my kids learn real life on a daily basis. Nope.
Hope to see you soon, you’ll recognize me as the Mommy with two running kids.
Share your thoughts: Are you in the same boat? Or do you completely disagree?
All photos via photopin.com. Click on photo to be redirected to photographer’s Flickr page.