Letting a child play with neighborhood kids


(Susie Ghahremani for The Washington Post)
July 3, 2013

She looks both ways before she crosses the street — we have very little traffic on our street — and she comes in when we call her, but she’s only 5 and I can’t expect her to remember every rule every time.

Also, this playtime is the only currency we have. When we say, “You have to pick up your toys before you go outside,” she picks them up. Should I lighten up or should I keep her inside with her brother, her dad and me?

A. Letting go and watching out are the yin and yang of parenthood. If you compromise a little, you should be able to bring more balance into your life and into your daughter’s life, too.

Although you have the right to use your time in a way that suits your temperament best, you also need to respect your daughter’s temperament, bit by bit. Begin by sitting outside with your little girl on Friday nights because you can sleep later the next morning, and on Sunday nights, when you and your husband have more time to cook. But walk the boundaries to give her a visual reminder of her limits, or draw them in chalk on the sidewalk.

You can expand the limits from time to time, but in a few months you’ll have to let her play outside during the week, too. Let your kitchen timer tell her when her time is up, however, rather than you. She will respond to “Mr. Buzzer” much better than she responds to you, because the timer will let her save face.

You can also start dinner in a slow cooker in the morning so it will be ready when you come home, and then let her play outside, under your watchful eyes, until it’s time for you to make the salad while she sets the table (more or less).

Or if your husband gets home in time, one of you can watch your little girl while the other one cooks dinner and tends to her brother. Or you could pay an 11-year-old to watch her and to take her across the street. A car is bound to come down your street sooner or later, which can cause problems since your daughter won’t know how fast it is coming until her eyes change shape, and that won’t happen until she’s about 7 years old.

Any one of these arrangements will give your social butterfly the chance to know the children in her neighborhood, and it will give you and your husband the chance to know their parents, too. This is critical. Not only will it be easier for you to make friends than it has ever been before — you’ll have your children to talk about — but you’ll find out which parents you have the most in common with and which ones watch their children as well as you do. These issues may not matter now, but they will matter significantly when your daughter is invited to play at a townhouse down the street.

The cream of this crop will also teach you more about parenting than you ever thought you needed to know; they’ll listen to your woes; they’ll be there for you in an emergency; and they’ll be your friends for the rest of your life.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Q. How old do you think a child should be before she’s allowed to play outside with the neighborhood children? My daughter is 5½ and is suddenly smitten with the kids between 4 and 9 years old who live on our tiny court of townhouses.

I know that it is natural for her to want to play with these kids — rather than go inside with her little brother and me — and that I should put her needs and preferences ahead of my own, but it’s hard. We get home late, so I have to start cooking dinner right away. Also, I want to unwind after a long day and a long commute, not yak with the other parents who know each other so well.

I feel bad that they have this kind of time for their kids — or even worse, that they can somehow make the time — but the worrywart in me is nervous about having my daughter play outside while I am in the house. Part of me thinks this is great; she’s much more social than my husband and me, so hats off to recessive genes! If I leave her alone, the other parents might think that I am fobbing my duties off on them even though she follows our rules pretty well.

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