We want our babies to stay little forever, but there comes a time, especially around the tween years that our children want to spread their wings and travel to school alone without supervision.
So when is the right time to allow your child their first steps of independence? Or more importantly, what age should they be?
Technically there is no legal age in Ireland for a child to walk alone to school, and with most things in life, you have to trust your instincts, you know your child best. However, some school policies require adults or older siblings to pick up children from the classroom until a specific year, and it varies across the country.
If you feel like your child is cautious enough and well in tune with their surroundings, they may be ready, but it is essential to prepare them and talk through a few safety precautions before they hit the road solo.
- Consider getting them a basic mobile phone for emergency use and most importantly teach them how to use 999. It’s not as straightforward as many may think. Another alternative would be to invest in an interactive GPS watch, especially if you're anxious about letting them walk alone, it might give some peace of mind knowing where they are at all times.
- Advise them to travel in groups so if that means knocking for a friend or meeting them along the route let it be. Those in groups are less likely to be contacted by a stranger.
- Do they know the safe cross code? It might sound silly to some but a lot of kids these days still waltz across the road without a care in the world. Enforce a rule that they can only cross streets at the lollipop lady, pedestrian lights and zebra crossings.
- Plot a safe route. Remind your son or daughter never to take short cuts and to be vigilant at all times. Keep the walking path the same every day, and in public area’s so people can see and hear.
- Create a code word for emergency use only. Agree on a safe word with your child that nobody else would know so that if you need someone to collect your child, they know it is perfectly fine to go with them.
- Inform them never to take rides from strangers or people you know without your permission and if someone approaches your child or makes them feel uncomfortable to go to the nearest adult they trust and tell them what happened.
- And finally, in the event, you are not home when your child finishes school, organise a safe house in advance. Whether it is a relative or trusted neighbour, make sure they have somewhere to go.