Help Me Sara: my child wants to walk to school by herself

By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist on November 13, 2013

My nine-year-old wants to walk to school alone. Although some of the other neighbourhood parents allow this, I do not. The school is not far but she’d have to cross a street and I don’t believe she’s ready for that. Is there a good age for children to start walking to school without adult supervision? Help me Sara!

Answer:

First, I’d like to distinguish between walking to school alone (without a peer or adult) and walking to school without you or another adult but with a buddy. There is quite a difference. The former would be best at an older age, whereas being without adult supervision, but in the company of peers, may be okay sooner. 

What I’m hearing is that although you’re not comfortable with letting your daughter, at the age of nine, walk to school alone without an adult, that you may be second guessing yourself. When other parents appear to be handling things differently, you may begin to wonder if you’re “normal”. 

In my first parenting book, Am I a Normal Parent? I ask parents to respond with yes or no to 50 questions that parents are typically concerned about. Then, based on prior research, I was able to share what percentage of parents answered the same way.

By doing this, I was able to reassure parents that perhaps they were more typical than they thought. For example, one of the questions is “Have you ever worried that you were being ‘neurotic’ in regards to your child’s safety and well-being?” Turns out that over half – 60 percent – of all parents who responded to my initial survey said “yes.” So, you are in the majority – and normal– when you worry about your nine-year-old walking to school without an adult.

I also posed the questions you have asked me. Of the parents I polled, the youngest age at which a parent felt comfortable with their child walking to school alone (that’s without peer or adult company) was eight, but she was in the minority. Most parents felt that between ages 12 and 14 was more appropriate.

I agree that this seems like the right age – by Grade 7 – for a child to become more  independent and ready for solo walking.

Taking Steps: Start by teaching your children the safety rules as soon as you begin walking to school. These include sticking to the same route, crossing with a crossing guard, how to respond to strangers, and watching for cars. 

Around Grade 5, I recommend setting your child up with a more experienced walking buddy. Make sure you are familiar with your school’s safe arrival program and that the office has the best phone number to reach you. Remind your child of the rules, including coming straight home or phoning if there is a change in plans.

The Bottom Line: Work towards independence but within a timeframe that is comfortable for you and your family.

Stumped by your kids' behaviour? Read more Sara at ParentsCanada.com/helpmesara

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2013.


By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist| November 13, 2013

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