By Dr Kelly Bowers, Youthrive Clinical Psychologist
It’s natural that we want to make sure our children arrive safely at school. While it’s never easy saying goodbye to routine school drop-offs, is it time to give your children extra freedom and responsibility and allow them to walk to school?
Fostering the development of your child’s independence is important. Unfortunately, we can’t cast a watchful eye over them forever. At some point, they’re going to need to learn to do things by themselves.
So when is a child ready to walk to school?
It is important to note that all children develop at different rates. At age 10, children typically begin to develop the following life skills which may lead to consideration for their walking to school on their own:
- Cognitive ability to gather information and formulate well-organised thoughts
- Logical thinking and reasoning
- Greater self-awareness
- Increased desire to prove independence
- Better understanding of cause and effect
But rather than age, parents should focus on their child’s developmental abilities before making a decision to allow them to walk on their own.
As parents, we are the best people to decide whether our children are ready or not. Remember, all children develop at different rates. Some 10-year-olds may possess skills of independence, whereas some 15-year-olds may not.
5 questions to ask yourself before allowing a child to walk to school
- Are you confident in your child’s ability to cross any roads, be aware of stranger danger, navigate their way to school and to arrive on time?
- Is your neighbourhood safe?
- Are there major roads your child has to cross?
- Does your child have a friend to walk with?
- Does your school have a walk-to-school policy?
3 ways to prepare your child to walk to school alone
If you have considered the questions above and believe your child is competent and mature enough to walk to school, then follow these tips:
- Gradually support your child in steps and stages.
This is the best way to foster your child’s independence and has benefits of developing your child’s confidence and self-esteem. You can start this at all ages.
- Try walking your child to school, but then standing back for the last 10 metres.
Over time, you can gradually increase the distance between where you stop walking and your child’s classroom until they’ve built the confidence to walk by themselves. In those early stages, you can maintain that watchful eye and make sure your child is developing the skills to complete this task independently in the future.
- Teach your children concepts of safety, at all ages.
Develop and rehearse safety plans with them for times when things may not go to plan, for example, what to do if it is raining when they’re supposed to walk home. Talk to other parents about how they support their child’s independence. Encourage your child to walk with their friends. Their confidence in being independent of you will develop with the support of peers.
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