13 ways to prepare your kids for independence

Are you at the stage where you're thinking of letting your child outdoors alone for the first time? Whether you're riddled with panic, or pushing them out of the door, Mumsnetters have some gentle words of wisdom

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1. Don't force it - getting the timing right is crucial

"We haven't yet, and until my eight-year-old daughter proves she can cross the road by herself, we won't. Also, I think she'd panic at the moment. I've told her that I won't be walking her to secondary school, so at some point she'll just have to be brave and do it!"

2. Establish a clear set of boundaries

"I didn't let my son go out on his own until he was at junior school, and then it was just to the park to play football with friends. But I always saw them across the roads. Ground rules were obviously not to speak with strangers, to come back at a certain time, and to come straight back if anyone had an accident."

3. Keep their first adventures close to home

"My daughter gets to play out in the garden and ride her bike between the two lamp posts outside the house, where I can see her clearly. Luckily her best friend lives next door so they are allowed in the same bit."

4. Use an upcoming holiday to lay the groundwork

"I do think it's really important for children to gradually gain some independence. Camping and holidays are great opportunities for them to go and buy milk/bread or play with friends away from us."

5. Always assess the current environment

"We live in a city. The biggest issue is the busy roads and my biggest worry is inconsiderate drivers - people go over red lights all the time, even on the crossings right by the schools."

"We live in a tiny rural village so the kids quite often go to each other's houses or the corner shop together. But we have eyes and ears dotted all over (just don't tell them!)."

6. Go at a pace that's right for you

"My daughter was nine when she started going to school alone. It's not far - literally up the hill and around a corner. I started gradually letting her go a bit more each time. To begin with it was just the last twenty yards (in sight of me), then a bit further etc until I was going halfway up the hill and no more. One morning I was really ill with a chest infection and she said, 'I can go on my own mummy.' I watched from the window and she met up with her friends along the road. After that I never took her again - she wouldn't let me!"

7. Rally a force of like-minded parents

"When my son was seven he was allowed to go along the road to his friend's house. He didn't know I phoned his friend's mum just before he left and she phoned me once he had arrived safely."

8. Don't underestimate the powers of modern technology

"I must admit I was a bit reluctant to allow my daughter to go into town by herself. I bought her a mobile phone just in case she needed to contact me. She called twice just to say hello and met me an hour later. She had a fantastic time and having that bit of independence has really boosted her confidence!"

9. There's always safety in numbers

"If my daughter's with a friend, then she's allowed to go into town or to the shops after school. She has a watch and I agree to meet her at a given time."

10. There's absolutely no shame in going rogue

"Mine were nine. I let them ride their bikes the quiet way through side streets to buy ice creams. I was so beside myself with worry that they'd take the main road instead, that I sneaked out with my bike and cycled off after them. When I got there I hid round the corner as I didn't want them to think I didn't trust them. That night they said, 'We saw you, you know, mum. You didn't need to follow us.'"

11. Take time to step back and reap the benefits

"My nine-year-old son started walking to school on his own this year - it's 1km with a couple of busy roads, and I was bricking it! He's been so responsible though. It's amazing to see him seek, and thrive on, his independence."

12. Never forget that this too, shall pass...

"My son went into town on the bus to meet friends from about 13. Now he's 17, it's mostly him begging us for a lift at midnight and us going, 'No, get a bloody taxi or sleep at a friend's house' etc."

13. ...and they may well be a lot more grown up than you think

"My son was about eight and I’d given permission for him and his little friend to walk to the local garage for a hot chocolate. They decided to walk the mile into the city instead and go to a grand cafe. They then walked home beaming while the other boy's mother and I were quietly freaking out. He informed me afterward that he'd even left a tip. He was EIGHT!"

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Last updated: over 1 year ago