Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Do your children play out?

It was very sad to wake up today to the news that a little 5 year old girl, April Jones from Wales, has gone missing, presumed abducted after reports of her getting into a van. I really do hope with all my heart that is returned home safe and well, her parents must be out of their mind with worry and I hate to think of this small child somewhere scared and wondering where her mummy and daddy are.

I'm not into victim blaming at all, there but for the grace of god and all that, however it did surprise me - maybe this reflects more on me - that a 5 year old was out playing without his or her parents at 7.30pm on a school night and when I mentioned this on Twitter it sparked a little debate with fellow parents about how, where and when we let our children out to play.

I feel perhaps I live in a little bubble or I'm maybe too over-protective? I don't know. I live on the edge of some glorious countryside, with no neighbours however my children, at their current ages of 5 and 6 do not get to go and explore this on their own. It's not through a big fear child abduction, after all it's relatively rare although saying that, it is a fact of life, bad things happen and I don't think you can be too complacent about it.  I try not to push the "Stranger Danger" message with my own children as I don't want them to be petrified of strangers! There are times when they may need to approach a "stranger" and I'm not sure a "don'y talk to strangers" attitude is particularly healthy or helpful. On the whole, I'm more concerned that they could get hurt and I wouldn't know where they were or they could get lost down one of the many meandering footpaths - I sometimes don't know the way myself and then there's the river and the main road to contend with.  We also live next to a big farm, the combine harvester already claimed the life of one of my mother-in-laws dogs when it was in the field that joins our house and then when it's full of cows, well I wouldn't let my child in a field of cows let's just say that!  I barely let them play in the garden without supervision or being within earshot but this is because the garden is not fenced off and a public footpath runs across our land so you never quite know who is about...

I realise these are all my fears and probably things that are never going to happen, but they could happen and my two children are just too precious.  I trust my children implicitly, they're good well-behaved children and if I set them boundaries I know that they would adhere to them but right now 5 years old still seems so little. My boy still sucks his thumb, wants cuddles and snuggles down with a beloved toy at nighttime. He's tiny. He enjoys adventure and gets lots of it, but supervised. Don't get me wrong, they'll come a time when I am more than happy to let them explore and go off and roam - it's a part of growing up after all, and something I enjoyed doing myself as a child - wandering off on my bike down trails and through woods, getting into scrapes and mishaps - however there's time for that yet and I don't feel that at 5 and 6 they need to be doing that.

When things like this happen, and thinking back to the Madeline McCann disappearance, it makes me question my own parenting and how I treat my children as these cases often spark debate. I often wonder if I am too over-protective with my children as leaving them alone in a hotel room for even five minutes or letting them play outside on their own at 7.30pm on a week night is so far removed from what I personally would find acceptable (if my children weren't in bed asleep by that time, school would be utter carnage the next day!) I can't help but question whether I give them enough freedom. Can you be too over-protective?

I guess we're all different in our parenting and those choices are ones that we are free to make as parents. That's what keeps it interesting and who is to say who is right and who is wrong. I'm sure that many people would disagree with some of my own parenting choices like letting my 5 year old eat chocolate cake for breakfast just so he'd stop asking or waking up my 6 year old on a Saturday night to bring her down for cream cakes and hot chocolate....

I'd be interested in hearing how you deal with giving your own children enough space and freedom whilst being mindful of that fact that they are little and that there are risks out there?

In the meantime, I have everything crossed that we hear some good news about April Jones today.


  1. Fantastic post - raising some important questions,in a sensitive and non judgemental way. It is possible to use situations like these to assess your own parenting styles without pinning blame on the parents of a missing child. After all, few could understand their pain better than a fellow parent. I really hope we get some good news today too :(

  2. Great post. I am also very protective of my children. Quite frankly, I don't care if anyone thinks it's 'over protective' - they are my children and I will do what I feel is right for them (and me!). My two youngest are only just coming up 4 and 2 so I am always on hand. Our back garden is completely enclosed with a 6' fence but I still rarely wander into the house when they are playing. Again, more for the fear of the youngest one climbing up the tree house and falling or some such thing. My eldest, nearly 14, did remind me the other day that she is not 5 years old anymore as I asked her to pop to the local supermarket for me (on our estate) and get some bread. Before she left the house I had reminded her not to get to close to cars and not get into any conversations with people she didn't know and not to walk though the alleyway. She rolled her eyes. I know, too much perhaps but in this day and age of being stuck looking at her mobile phone or with her headphones on and texting, I also remind her to look both ways crossing the road! Hey, they are my girls and I love them and will do my utmost to keep them safe. So, I'm with you. I'm protective and proud of it :)

  3. It's a horrible day. I live very near Machynlleth and my husband is out searching for April along with a lot of other people. I can't settle to anything knowing it's going on, we all just have to hope she is found safe and well.

    You can't live your life thinking something like this might happen, but the conflict between keeping your children close and letting them grow up will always be there.

  4. It's a hard one and no mistake, you need to keep your children safe but also allow them to become independent and self reliant. The only way you can keep them as safe as is possible is to be with them 100% of the time, which is nigh on impossible. Do mums trust their children to be left with dads (or vice versa)? There are, sadly, numerous children killed (or otherwise harmed) by a parent, sibling or other relative. What about in nursery or school? We've all heard those horror stories too. My childhood friend's sister was murdered by a neighbour, we all knew him and didn't have any cause no to trust him. Her parents always made sure their kids weren't wondering the streets, she had only gone out to buy an ice cream and that was the last time she was seen. Turns out he had already served time for rape, which nobody knew about and, being a friendly neighbour, he even went out with the search parties to look for her.

    So I've come to the conclusion that whatever you do can turn out to be wrong. I've always allowed my child as much freedom as possible, as the odds that they will come to harm are actually very low, but I do keep a very sharp surreptitious eye on him. So although he thinks he's doing his own thing, he is actually rarely out of my sight.

  5. Mine play out you have to let them it's part of life - I worry, I watch them and generally the whole thing is hideous stress - god only knows what I'll be like when they are teens!


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