Your kid's first steps towards independence

Big kid: How to let your child go places alone without losing your mind

Photo by: Beyond/Corbis

It’s a milestone the first time your child walks out the door alone. Whether he’s walking to school, the corner store or a friend’s house, he’s literally taking the first steps toward independence. You worry about him getting lost; you worry about him getting snatched (a truly rare occurrence); you worry about him looking both ways before crossing the street.

It’s most important that your child is traffic-smart before he goes off to the corner store or school on his lonesome. Safe Kids Canada estimates that nearly 2,400 children are seriously injured in pedestrian-related incidents. According to Kristen Gane, program director at Safe Kids, children aged nine to 11 generally have the cognitive and physical skills to deal with the challenges of traffic. “As children approach nine, you can start thinking about whether they have the ability to determine and use a safe crossing route,” she says.

Susan Lanyi, a mother with three kids (from ages seven to 11), says her oldest was ready to travel to school alone at age nine, partly because he’d walked the route for years with his dad. Reluctant children may want to start by walking with a pal, and reluctant parents should confess their concerns.

“If you’re really having trouble, say to your child, ‘I can see that you’re ready, but I’m a little bit nervous,’” says Gane. “Work on it together.”

Before setting your child off solo, it’s a good idea to walk the route with him or shadow him, ensuring he recognizes potential danger spots. Choose a short trip he’s familiar with to ensure he won’t get lost or confronted with unfamiliar situations. (Advise him that if something does go wrong it’s OK to ask a stranger for help, but never to go anywhere with a stranger.) The best routes include intersections with crossing guards or traffic signals, but remind him always to do his own once-over (eyes left-right-left) to ensure safe passage. Reduce distractions, such as listening to an iPod, which increases the risk of accidents by one-third.

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