It is no surprise parents are spooked at the thought of giving their kids the freedom that children had decades ago, especially when it’s off on eerily empty streets. Front yards, cul-de-sacs, even parks were bursting with children in past generations, but not these days. That’s why the big night for trick-or-treating, when streets are bustling, is a new “coming of age” night for kids who may be ready for a little more independence.
At least it’s that way for mother of four, Jamie Cook, who is crossing that bridge for the first time with her 10-year-old.
“I think he’s very much at a stage where he’s rejecting the idea of running around with his three little sisters,” says Cook. “I certainly think there’s pushback and he’s needing to spread his wings.”
Psychologist Michael Thompson, Ph.D., and contributor to Parents Magazine says parents like Cook are taking an important step, by offering their child “tangibles long associated with childhood: risk-taking, budding self-confidence, adventure and a healthy dose of magic.”
“While there are many things we can give our kids by spending time with them, the one thing we can’t hand them is independence,” Dr. Thompson says. “For kids to have full psychological ownership of their achievements, they have to be away from their parents. So, the task for us is to step back, open the door, and let a child go.”
Cook, who curates a social media account dedicated to family and parenting and also contributes to KSL in Salt Lake City, has three tips for feeling confident in saying ‘see you later’ to your older kids.
Communicate with your child
She recommends laying clear ground rules with your kid. Have the mature conversations ahead of time, so they feel empowered to solve the problems that might arise when they are on their own.
“When I can talk from a more thoughtful perspective, even troubleshoot with [my son],” says Cook. “Like say, ‘okay, what do you think are some safety concerns on Halloween night?’ And then give him the opportunity to say, ‘well, it’s dark outside and cars can’t see you, maybe there’s people who are going to be spooking us,’ and let him go through and find the solutions for some of the problems. It helps him take more ownership, so that he’ll be more invested in making the right choices.”
Communicate with other parents
Cook says it’s obviously important to know who will be running around with your kid, but she recommends making the extra effort to know their parents.
Once you know parents, it makes it easier to establish mutual rules with the entire group, like setting a curfew for everyone. That way no one child can say, ‘well, so and so gets to stay out til 10 o’clock.’
“The more everyone is going to be on the same page, the better,” says Cook.
Communicate your values
Share your values with your child, your child’s friends, their parents and your neighbors. Cook says it is important to not be afraid to have those deep conversations that build trust with the community who will be keeping an eye on your child, when you can’t.
“[Our neighbors] have kind of banded together and we uphold certain values collectively,” says Cook. “So having a network of parents that are on your team, working towards the same values makes it so much easier to feel like you are raising your kids right.”
But even after doing all this, Cook still acknowledges that good, old-fashioned worry is natural.
That’s where Dr. Thompson reminds parents to not let their worry give way to fear, but to love.
“Parents always work from a place of love and a fervent desire to make their child’s future better.”
Which is why Cook is determined to offer her son more freedom, even though she is sensibly realistic about how difficult it may be.
“With a first born, and an only son, it’s more of a challenge to learn to let go. I think we’re probably holding on to him longer than he wants, so this is going to be an experimental year for us.”