When is it okay to travel home from school alone?

Rose Cantali_05_11_2015_01

Clinical psychologist and mother Rose Cantali. Photo: Kitty Beale

All parents wonder if the greatest risk to children when walking alone is traffic. Letting go and allowing your child to travel independently is never easy.

Child psychologist Dr Patricia Spungin, believes that most children aged eight or nine should be allowed to walk to and from school on their own.

At this age, a child can hold a conversation with an adult and ask questions if they experience any issues. They will also have developed some ability to know if a stranger is showing an unhealthy interest in them.

However, children going on a long journey should be post-pubescent, around 12 years for girls and 13 years, or older, for boys. Travelling by bus poses other risks, questions arise such as – does the bus stop in the same place on its return journey? Is it a request stop when you want it to stop? And, do you and your child know the route?

After considering these and making the journey together with your child, assess whether you believe your child is ready to travel on the bus alone.

Safety educators believe that children and young people develop important life skills by having opportunities to experience risks and not by being wrapped in cotton wool. Parents need to know their children; a shy child may not ask for help if something goes wrong, whereas a younger, yet more confident child will.

Giving your child independence should also be viewed as helping them grow in confidence, so that they can make sensible decisions when parents are not there.

Here are some tips for parents:

  • Children under the age of 11 years should be taught to choose a safe place to cross the road and how to use a pedestrian crossing.
  • Encourage independence at home by having them help around the house and doing things for themselves such as making a sandwich and getting the newspaper from the mailbox. This will prepare them for travelling independently.
  • An excellent way to protect children is by making them confident. Allowing your child to meet a friend in the park for an hour in the school holidays, walking or cycling, or going to a local library alone are great ways to start. Children need to be able to cope with these and be prepared for doing them safely.
  • Chances are, if your child is not asking about travelling alone, they are probably not ready.
  • Once you’ve decided they are ready to leave the house alone for small periods, give them some simple safety advice and then let them go. But it’s imperative not to overload them with a huge list of do’s and don’ts.

Rose Cantali is a clinical psychologist who specialises in children and adolescents. She has completed her PhD at Sydney University on boys school connectedness. Her work includes school visits and consulting teachers.

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