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Description: Ok, here is a challenging question. Imagine you are a parent, and your child is 4 years old, and you need some butter for a recipe you are working on for a large family dinner, but you have several things in the oven and on the stove and you cannot leave (Covid inspired delivery will take too long). There is a corner store 2 blocks from your house that your child is very familiar with because you walk with them to the store every Friday for “treat day” (where your child gets to pick a small amount of candy from the offerings at the store. You have a passing thought that your 4-year-old could be given some money and a note saying, “a pound of butter please” and could walk to the store and get you the butter you need…. What are your thoughts? Wow, I just had a crazy daydream? Or I better get back on my meds, that is a crazy thought? They are not old enough for that (and if you think that how old WOULD they have to be before you would send them on the butter errand)? How about “that’s against the law isn’t it?” Well, let me date myself rather severely. When I was in grade 1 I would walk from my family home 4 blocks to my school, and I would also walk home for lunch everyday too. Sometimes I would walk with friends but really only if we happened to run into each other along he way. I walked past a corner store that was across the street from the school (which had crossing guards who were grade 6 and 7 students, not adults). My mother would often send me to the store with a note and money to get something she needed for a meal preparation or baking task. I, and no one else, thought my life was in jeopardy when I did those things. Was my Mom crazy? No. That was how we (and most other families) did things back then. Yes, I know, maybe if I rode my pet dinosaur to school I would have been better off. Would you do this today? Well before you snort or laugh dismissively consider that there is a TV show made in Japan called Old Enough! That follows young children doing just those sorts of errands (check them out on YouTube and maybe on Netflix). Oh, and as crazy as this might sound to you consider the possibility that having young children do things like this might actually be good for them. Dubious? Aghast? Well, have a read through the article linked below and consider one or two of the articles in the Further Reading list and see if you budge a bit from your position in this area.

Source: A 4-year-old can run errands alone … and not just on reality TV, Maichaeleen Doucleff, Goats and Soda, Stories of Life in a Changing World.

Date: April 22, 2022

Image by langll from Pixabay

Article Link:

OK as crazy as the premise of a young child walking alone to and from a local store (or a relative’s hose, a park or a neighbor’s or a friend’s house) there IS data that indicates that many of our neighbourhood have become safe and safer over the past 25 years. And what about the matter of being able to practice autonomy? Growth in the area of autonomy is a vital part of positive development. In Erikson’s psychol social model, it is the second thing to start to emerge as a need or developmental issue at around 2 years of age, proceeded only by trust, which is at the core of the development of attachment relationships in the first 2 years of life. So, while checking local laws and regulations would be a good idea maybe this idea of encouraging autonomy is not as crazy as it may have seemed when I first mentioned it above.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are your concerns about the idea of having a young child run such errands?
  2. What about being responsible to doing something helpful with an adult hand-holder be good for your children developmentally?
  3. What are some longer-term developmental and adjustment implications for today’s children and youth of their NOT having autonomy opportunities like the ones that I had as a child (not that I am perfect in any way)?

References (Read Further):

Ochs, E., & Izquierdo, C. (2009). Responsibility in childhood: Three developmental trajectories. Ethos, 37(4), 391-413. Link

Lancy, D. F. (2012). The chore curriculum. African Children at Work: Working and Learning in Growing Up., 23. Link

Frankenhuis, W. E., & Amir, D. (2021). What is the expected human childhood? Insights from evolutionary anthropology. Development and psychopathology, 1-25. Link

Vasquez, A. C., Patall, E. A., Fong, C. J., Corrigan, A. S., & Pine, L. (2016). Parent autonomy support, academic achievement, and psychosocial functioning: A meta-analysis of research. Educational Psychology Review, 28(3), 605-644. Link

Haidt, J., & Rodin, J. (1999). Control and efficacy as interdisciplinary bridges. Review of general psychology, 3(4), 317-337. Link

Schiffrin, H. H., Liss, M., Miles-McLean, H., Geary, K. A., Erchull, M. J., & Tashner, T. (2014). Helping or hovering? The effects of helicopter parenting on college students’ well-being. Journal of child and family studies, 23(3), 548-557. Link

Pimentel, D. (2016). Protecting the free-range kid: recalibrating parents’ rights and the best interest of the child. Cardozo L. Rev., 38, 1. Link

Free Range Kids Web Site