My four-year-old son asks, “Can I walk alone to my dad?” We play a game in the caravan, the younger one takes a nap. My husband watches Formula 1 in the central plaza of the camp site.
My son looks at me with wide eyes. “I can do it on my own. Really mama, I know the way.” I doubt: It’s not far, but the camping supermarket, as it can be very crowded, is down the road. He can turn left and walk towards the pool. And the Spanish camp site where we are now is not full of Dutch, people mainly speak French and Spanish.
On the other hand, we’ve walked the road together countless times. As I said, it is not far. I put on his bracelet with his name and phone number on it and texted my husband that he was coming.
It kicks off with a carton of apple juice. Finally looking back again. I am directed. And wait. It takes a long time before I get a message from my husband that he is in his sight. Or is he okay? How many minutes have gone now? Then I get a picture. His head sticks out over the stairs leading to the square. he’s there.
two girls crying
My husband and I have a regular conversation this holiday about how much freedom our son gets at camp. What is reasonable now? And what if it is lost? It happened to my neighbor’s four-year-old daughter last year. Together with a friend they wanted to walk to the toilet. It was close: twice I left around the corner and I was there.
The girls went out together. They did not go left twice, but left and then right. They have lost their way. Moments later, the father found two girls crying at the end of the road.
“It is upsetting for girls to get lost, but it is good for the children themselves to signal that they are ready for the next step,” says educator Ingeborg Dijkstra. “Especially when there are two of them, you can give them that confidence.”
According to Dijkstra, as a parent, you can trust your child and give them space with clear agreements. The clear agreement is, for example, deciding where the child can go. “For example, you could say, ‘You can go to the end of the track, but not around the corner.’ Or: Up to the red picnic table,” says Dijkstra.
It helps to explore a strange place upon arrival. “This goes for kids of all ages. Tour the site together and find the attractions: table tennis tables, ice cream parlour, playground. Say things like, ‘We can get ice cream here once or we can play table tennis here.’” Then see what the real boundary area is. “
If the kids indicate during the holidays that they want to continue, you can try this limit. “With each success experience, you can tell if both parent and child are ready to take a step forward.”
What if things go wrong and your child goes astray? “And then you find out — after every panic: This could be a long way off. Remember that 99.9 percent of all kids who are lost come back. A case like kidnapping 9-year-old Gino is the worst thing a parent can do. It happens, but it really is an exception. That is why it is widely reported in the media.
According to Dijkstra, you can also rely on the social control of neighbors at the camp site. They often know very well which child belongs where. “Other people in the camp are usually willing to help a crying child. In addition, the boundaries of the camp site are often demarcated with a fence and barrier, and the child does not just leave the camp.”
Emergency whistle bracelet
According to Dijkstra, if things go wrong, it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. “Discussing this experience with your child can be very helpful. You can ask: What would you have done when you found out that you no longer know your way around? Could you go back to a point where you met? Or to a place where other people are and you can ask if They could call your parents.”
Discuss in advance with your child what might happen. “Not knowing where you are or losing your parents is more realistic than kidnapping. It is good to discuss what the child should do: go back to a place where there are more people, show your bracelet, and sound the emergency whistle.”
When are you a frizzy parent who is above everything and when do you give him so much freedom? “Of course you can get anxious as parents, especially with water and young children. This is dangerous. Dijkstra then advises you to remove the demarcation from the water. To the green caravan, but not the other way around.”
If you, as a parent, notice that you constantly want to control your child’s posture and that you feel fear in your body and think a lot about doomsday scenarios, you are on the overprotective side, according to Dijkstra.
Giving your child too much freedom is also not good. For example, if you say: “Now you can walk to the toilet yourself.” Or: “This is the playground, I’ll come to you in half an hour.” “Children can panic about it. It’s best for a child to set their own limits and not to be crossed by you as a parent.”
For kids who are just starting to tell the time, the clock is fun. Especially if you can set a timer. “You can then agree: report every half hour. And if all goes well: walk every hour. Or: If it’s ten in the morning, you come to the tent. Children often forget what time they are playing, which is why the timer on the watch is Useful. You can also bring an old phone and set a timer.”
Young children can be placed on the SOS band, which contains their name and phone number. Dijkstra does not recommend the use of a GPS tracker. “Parents sometimes let kids go over what they’re ready for because they think ‘I know where it is.’ But it’s best to expand the areas gradually or make the time longer. You can do this. With your child.”
What age can do what?
How far each child can go, of course, depends on the age and on the child himself. One child is independent at a young age and you can make good agreements with him, and the other child of the same age has a less sense of responsibility. With that said, there are some general guidelines:
- 1-3 years: Young children should always be supervised by their parents or guardians. They are too young to be able to assess or supervise risks. Pedagogue Ingeborg Dijkstra: “A play tent can be useful for this age group. You can put it in your campground for younger kids and a little further out with the opening in sight for a 3-year-old.” This way the kids still have their own place and it’s very easy: at the end of the day all the buckets and buckets can be put into the tent.
- 4-5 years: At this age, you can make appointments with your child. Depending on the independence of the child, you can agree on which areas the child may go. “Kids often don’t know their parents’ phone number by heart, so an SOS bracelet is useful. When they’re ready, they can walk short paths on their own, like the toilet block or an ice cream kiosk near the corner. With your child first.”
- From 6 years old: From the age of six, most children can play better independently. “But here also the following applies: Look at what your child can handle, walk together to where they are allowed to go, and in the meantime, give advice such as: If you get a splinter in your finger, go back and I will take it out. With children who can Knowing the time, it is useful to make time agreements, such as: reporting every half hour.”