Can I Ever Let My Kid Walk Home Alone?

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Republished from July 15, 2011

By Pattie Fitzgerald, founder of Safely Ever After

School is in full swing across the country, and many parents are wondering when it might be safe to give their children some independence — freedom to ride their bikes, walk home or navigate the streets on their own. There is no magical age when it suddenly becomes “safe-proof.” Qualities like maturity, awareness and quick-thinking skills all come into play when parents make a decision like this. While I don’t advocate hovering or helicopter parenting, I do recommend that we slow down a bit and really assess how much our kids are capable of handling when they’re on their own, no matter what age they may be.  The answer is different for every child.

There are the handful of tragic stories regarding kids waiting at bus stops or walking home from school alone, that might cause parents to give up on their kids ever walking around the neighborhood alone, but this isn’t necessarily the solution. I suggest the approach is to understand that even though there are no absolutes, no guarantees, we cannot lock our children inside the house, teaching them to be fearful of the world.

Speaking honestly about safety issues with our kids before giving them their freedom and independence, with specific Do’s and Don’ts when they’re out on their own is one piece of the process. We can give them some clear-cut strategies, a simple action plan in case they get lost, or are approached by a friendly stranger. Also, we should have that conversation more than once.  Kids need reminders, even though they may roll their eyes and spit out an “I know, Mom.” There’s nothing more important than our children’s safety.

10 Safety Tips for Parents & Kids

  • Remind kids never to get near or into a car with anyone they don’t know, no matter how friendly the person seems. it’s okay to say “No!” even if it might feel rude.
  • No entering anyone’s house, unless you’ve gotten previous permission from mom or dad ahead of time.
  • If lost or in an emergency situation, go into a public venue, a store, etc. and seek out a mom with kids or the cash-register person to ask for help.
  • For emergencies: Use a family “code-word” for children over the age of 8. If someone else tries to pick them up from school for ANY reason, kids ask the code-word. If that person doesn’t know it, it’s not safe. Say NO and get away quickly. This goes for people they don’t know and even people that they know a lot or a little bit!!
  • Use the buddy system. Children age 10 and below should not be walking anywhere on their own. They are  more easily tricked, and less able to make quick, safe decisions.
  • Walking to and from school:  plan the route ahead of time, walk it with your child and point out “safe-stops” along the way in case of an emergency. Don’t take shortcuts in alleys, wooded areas, etc.
  • Remind your child that safe adults shouldn’t be asking kids for assistance when you’re alone or just with another kid – it’s okay to say NO to anyone who may be asking for help with a lost pet, needing directions, etc.
  • Don’t put your child’s name on the outside of their belongings (jackets, backpacks, lunchboxes, etc.).
  • Use some common-sense “What-If” scenarios to be sure your child knows what to do in an emergency.  By playing the “what if” game in a non-fearful manner, you’ll help instill these safety strategies and will also be able to gauge when it may be okay to give them a little more independence and freedom as they grow.
  • Even in seemingly quiet “safe” neighborhoods, parents need to go over the safety rules – don’t get lulled into a false sense of security.

Pattie Fitzgerald is the founder of Safely Ever After, Inc. and is recognized as a leading expert in the field of childhood sexual abuse prevention education. She is certified as a Child Safety Educator and Child Visitation Monitor, and has been working in the field of child advocacy for over ten years. As a former preschool teacher, Pattie blends her expertise as an educator and, more importantly as a mother, to teach parents and kids every where the most effective, up-to-date safety strategies without using fear tactics. For more information visit Safely Ever After.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for young kids. Check out episodes of our “Ruby’s Studio” children’s video series, along with our beautiful children’s books, apps, music and more.

Posted in: Expert Advice, Safety, Guest Post, School