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This summer at the pool and all year long in the backyard, or when out shopping, you can help your child safely gain a sense of independence by using periodic check-ins.

This simple tool helps them learn to meet expectations. It also helps them share the responsibility of being on time. This helps prevent the classic parenting mistake of making you – the parent – responsible for everything. Or, worse yet, making your child responsible for everything.

Know your space

Using periodic check-ins depends a lot on the space where you will be practicing. In a small shop or a store with clearly defined spaces and one primary exit, you can give your child more freedom and time with confidence.

Larger spaces with less clearly defined boundaries and more people in them require more thought. Places like pools and public parks require more frequent check-ins and a thoughtful plan for monitoring your child.

Set appropriate times

Your child will naturally become engaged and whatever play activity they select. And also attention spans vary based on the age of your child. So you will need to consider all of the variables. For a 6 year old, for instance, you might say they can come and get you when they are ready, but that you will be back in 5 minutes to check on them. If your child is older, you may give them time or a specific task to accomplish, such as, “come back in 15 minutes with the book you would like to buy.”

Use clear signals

Many younger children don’t wear watches or carry phones, so it is hard to set time-based expectations for them. So think about the signals that occur naturally at your location. For example, if you are at a pool that has an adult swim at the start of every hour, you may leave your child 15 minutes before the hour with the instruction to check in when it is adult swim.

Then, because it involves swimming and many people, you may choose to set up where you can see them but where they don’t feel like they are being closely monitored.

Helping your child develop a sense of independence and responsibility without shaming or blaming is an important job for parents. Building their skills and their confidence will help them later in life as they grow and are forced to solve problems when you are not around. Structured practice will help them be safe and successful for years to come.

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