I let my kids play unsupervised for the first time.
Camping holidays are cool as shit when you let your kids go play. My family and I just returned from a camping holiday on the spectacular Western Australian coast. We spent 10 days driving in a camper van up to Coral Bay from Perth, which is about a 13 hour drive. We stopped at various caravan parks on the way to and from Coral Bay, and once there we stayed a few nights in a lodge situated in a caravan park.
For those who haven’t travelled in this way, most of these caravan parks have a giant bouncy pillow and some playground equipment. They tend to be very child friendly places. Kids of all ages can be seen riding bikes and scooters all over the park. Or they’re running around barefoot, making friends and generally having the time of their lives.
But the drive was looooong.
Needless to say we did a whole lot of driving with two small, bored boys in tow. Some of the drives were in excess of 7 hours. This is an eternity to a little boy. Whenever we arrived at our destination they would fizz out of the camper van and then race around the camp-site like two lit fireworks.
I let them play without supervision.
Now let me say here first…I have never, ever left my children to play without adult supervision. My eldest is 7 years old and my youngest is 3. There has always, always been a responsible adult watching them. But they were so excited to be out of the car, and my husband and I had so much to get sorted out in terms of setting up dinner and beds before sunset that we agreed they could go off to the playground. Out of our sight. We gave our 7 year old strict instructions to stay with and watch his younger brother. We made sure that if the little one wanted to come back the elder had to bring him, and could then return to the playground alone.
I still can’t quite believe I allowed it, in a place where all manner of terrible accidents could have befallen them. They could have been led away, fallen off equipment, been run over. They could have been hurt by other, bigger, fiercer children. I had terrible visions of them becoming lost and wandering through a big unfamiliar caravan park, full of enormous vehicles and strangers, searching for their Mummy.
But none of that happened.
They took on the responsibility to look after themselves like champions.
Our eldest son took his responsibility seriously. He watched his brother and defended him in the scraps they got into with other children. He brought him back whenever his brother wanted, carefully watching out for cars. The little one, who is a law unto himself, listened when he was told the rules that bound this new freedom, and obeyed them to the letter.
In fact, there was a moment on my way to cook dinner when I happened to pass them where they were playing. I found myself instantly intervening, cautioning and reprimanding until I forcibly had to remind myself to leave them be.
They did not need me.
The boys were learning great and varied lessons without me there. My kids did not need me to intervene. They were much happier left to themselves to create their own little world.
When I was a kid, I remember playing for long stretches of time completely unsupervised. Yes, even at the age of 3. Children just don’t get much of this sort of completely free play anymore. Let’s be real, we supervise them to within an inch of their lives because we’re terrified of something hurting them, or worst of all, losing them. As a generation of parents we have been relentlessly exposed to news story after news story of horrors perpetrated on and accidentally befalling kids. We see this stuff so often we forget – it’s newsworthy because it’s rare. You are left unable to accurately gauge whether an environment is safe. You see boogie men and peril around every corner.
And I get it…when it comes to your kids it’s better to be safe than sorry. But little kids need the confidence that comes with weighing alternatives and choosing the best one. Children benefit from free play. You are giving them a gift when you put your trust in them and let them show you they’re worthy of it. They’re learning to negotiate, to cooperate, to compromise. My sons made so many friends. Every time they went to play they ended up in a gang. When I take them to the park in the suburb we live in that doesn’t happen. Maybe they’re always conscious of me watching and that inhibits them? I don’t know.
They had a brilliant time.
All I know is they had a brilliant time. I mean, they really loved it. Apart from the constant low-level hum of paranoia that my florid imagination provided, my husband and I enjoyed it too. We were able to get shit done! Without children underfoot! In a caravan park that shit matters! Everybody won.
And yes, I will be letting them play at the park across the road after school, without me. Well, I might sneak out and check on them every once in a while. But I won’t let them see me.