When it comes to free-range parenting, the key is balance. Yes, it is important for your child to test himself against his environment. However, that environment needs to be both age-appropriate and safe. Children also need supervision, and they may venture out further if they can turn back and know that there is a significant caretaker nearby.

The importance of creative play

Creative play is both important and beneficial in child development. By knowing what stage your child is in, you can affect that stage through age-appropriate stimulation. For example, I suggest creating a print-rich environment to help stimulate your child’s development:

  1. Fill your home with books, magazines, colors, and word art.
  2. Also, allow your young child to experience freeform creative play with objects to manipulate, observe, listen to, and touch – such as blocks, wooden spoons, balls, and so on.
  3. Be certain, however, that you’ve created a safe environment in which you can keep a close eye.

None of these modalities need to be purchased or acquired, as you likely have the tools you need for creative play already in your home.

The importance of bonding

Moreover, throughout my own research, I’ve learned that bonding is the most significant requirement for a happy, healthy child. If you bond well with your child, you can lower stress and anxiety, support security, and help your child reach his full capacity. Whereas a poorly bonded child may be stressed and therefore over-produce cortisol (1), which can change both brain architecture and impulse control… forever.

But a word of caution: if you are a free-range parent, know that your child will not have the same sense of danger or threats as you do as an adult. Knowing your child’s stage of emotional development is important, because young children, even through adolescence, can have inflated ideas of their own omnipotence and power with an unrealistic understanding or sense of danger (2).

In the final analysis, whatever the goals are for your child – whether you subscribe to a free-range, traditional, helicopter, or other parenting styles, or other – the most important elements for your child are: bonding, security, safety, age-appropriate communication, and environment.

At the end of the day, extreme parenting is out of balance and, therefore, can cause emotional, intellectual, security, and safety problems. Moreover, it is important to remember that children are children, and even though we want to teach them maturity by allowing them to test themselves against their environment, we have to take into account their stage of brain development, including their understanding of danger. Parents are entitled to parent, and must parent wisely.

Source 1: Handbook of Early Childhood Education, Robert C. Pianta

Source 2: “Oh Yes, I Can.” “Oh No, You Can’t”: Children and Parents’ Understandings of Kids’ Competence to Negotiate Public Space Safely, by Gill Valentine, Vol 29, Issue 1


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.