“Can I go to dad alone?” asks my four-year-old son. We play a game by the caravan, the youngest takes his afternoon nap. My husband watches Formula 1 in the central square of the campsite.
My son looks at me with wide eyes. “I can do it alone. Really mom, I know the way.” I doubt it: it’s not far, but the camping supermarket, which can be quite busy, is on the route. He can turn left and go towards the pool. And the Spanish campsite where we are now is not exactly overrun with Dutch people, people mainly speak French and Spanish.
On the other hand, we have walked the route together countless times. And as I said, it’s not far. I put on his bracelet with his name and my phone number on it and text my husband that he’s coming.
He leaves with a carton of apple juice. Finally, he looks back once more. I wave. And wait. It takes a long time before I hear from my husband that he is in his sight. Or is it okay? How many minutes is he gone now? Then I get a photo. His head sticks out over the stairs to the square. He is there.
Two crying girls
My husband and I have a regular conversation this vacation about how much freedom our son gets at the campground. What makes sense now? And what if he gets lost? It happened to my neighbor’s then four-year-old daughter last year. Together with a friend, they would go to the toilet block. It was close: two lefts around the corner and you were there.
The girls went out together. They just didn’t go left twice, but left and then right. They lost weight. Moments later, the father found two crying girls at the end of the path.
“It is a pity that the girls are lost, but it is good if the children themselves indicate that they are ready for the next step,” says educator Ingeborg Dijkstra. “Especially when there’s two of them, you can give them that confidence.”
According to Dijkstra, as a parent you can trust your child and give him space with clear agreements. A clear agreement is, for example, a delimitation of where a child may go. “For example, you can say: ‘You can go to the end of the path, but not around the corner’. Or: up to the red picnic table,” says Dijkstra.
Experimenting with boundaries
It helps to explore a foreign place upon arrival. “This goes for kids of all ages. Take a tour of the place together and look for landmarks: the ping-pong tables, the ice cream stand, the playground. Say things like, ‘We can get an ice cream here sometime, or we can play table tennis here.’ So see what a real border area is.”
If children indicate during the holidays that they want to continue, you can experiment with that limit. “With each successful experience, you can see if both the parent and the child are ready to take it a step further.”
What if things go wrong and your child gets lost? “Then you realize – after all the panic: it may have been too far. Remember that 99.9 percent of all children who get lost come back. A case like the kidnapping of 9-year-old Gino is the worst can do as a parent. happen, but it’s really an exception, which is why it’s a lot of media coverage.”
According to Dijkstra, you can also rely on the neighbors’ social control at a campsite. They often know very well which child belongs where. “Others at the campsite are usually willing to help a crying child. Furthermore, a campsite is often delimited by a fence and a barrier, a child does not just leave the campsite.”
Bracelet and emergency whistle
According to Dijkstra, if things go wrong, it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. “Discussing that experience with your child can be very instructive. You can ask: what could you have done when you discovered that you no longer knew your way? Could you have gone back to a point that you recognized? Or to a place where other people and you can ask if they can call your parents.”
Discuss beforehand with your child what could happen. “Not knowing where you are or having lost your parents is much more realistic than an abduction. It’s good to discuss what the child should do: go back to a place where there are more people, show your bracelet , blow an emergency whistle.”
When are you a curling parent who is on top of everything and when do you give them too much freedom? “Of course you can be worried as parents, especially with water and small children. It is simply dangerous. Dijkstra then advises to remove the demarcation from the water. to the green caravan, but not the other way around.”
If you as a parent feel that you always want to be in control of your child’s situation, and that you feel fear in your body, and that you think a lot about doomsday scenarios, then according to Dijkstra, you are on the overprotective side.
Giving your child too much freedom is also not good. For example, if you say: ‘Now you can go to the toilet block yourself.’ Or: ‘Here’s the playground, I’ll come pick you up in half an hour.’ “Children can really panic about that. It is better if a child sets his own limit and you, as a parent, do not exceed it.”
For children who are starting to tell time, a clock is interesting. Especially if you can set a timer. “You can then agree: report every half hour. And if it goes well: stop by every hour. Or: if it’s ten o’clock, you come to the tent. Children often forget the time when they play, so it’s a timer a watch is useful. You can also bring an old phone and set a timer.”
Small children can be put on an SOS band, which contains their name and a telephone number. Dijkstra does not recommend a GPS tracker. “Parents sometimes let kids go beyond what they’re ready for because they think, ‘I know where he or she is.’ But it’s better to gradually expand the zones or make the time longer. You can do that. together with your child.”
What age can what?
How far each child can go depends of course on the age and on the child himself. One child is independent at a young age and good agreements can be made about that, the other child of the same age has less sense of responsibility. Still, there are a few general guidelines:
- 1-3 years: Small children must be supervised by their parents or guardians at all times. They are too young to be able to assess or foresee dangers. Educator Ingeborg Dijkstra: “A play tent can be useful for this age group. You can put it on your campsite for the smallest children and a little further away with the opening in sight for a 3-year-old.” In this way, children still have their own place and it is very practical: at the end of the day, all shovels and buckets can be placed in the tent.
- 4-5 years: In this age phase, you can make agreements with your child. Depending on the child’s independence, you can agree on zones to which a child may go. “Kids often don’t know their parent’s phone number by heart, so an SOS bracelet is helpful. When they’re ready, they can walk short distances alone, like to the toilet building or the ice cream parlor around the corner. always with your child first.”
- From 6 years: From the age of six, most children can play better independently. “But the following also applies here: look at what your child can handle, go on routes together to where it is permitted to go and in the meantime give tips such as: if you get a splinter in your finger, you go back and I will take it out. With children who can tell the time, it is helpful to make time agreements, such as: report every half hour.”