Your little one wants to play in the yard, but you've got dinner to make and messes to clean up...is it okay to let your child play outside alone while you get things done inside? To help you decide what age is right for your child, we put the question to Circle of Moms members. Here are the essential factors our members recommend considering.
How Safe is Your Location?
Stranger danger is the top concern related to allowing a child of any age to play outside alone. As a result, moms stress the importance of considering your neighborhood's safety before alowing solo playtime outside. As Erica B. cautions: “I will not let my children play outside by themselves in an open area...that's how too many children get kidnapped. If for some reason I cannot be outside with my children then they come in the house with me.” Rindy S. expresses a similar opinion: “We live in a fairly small town in a good neighborhood. I would think twice about sending her out by herself if we lived in a different location.”
Among moms who do feel comfortable with the safety of their neighborhood, permitting solo play in a fenced-in backyard often starts as early as age 3-4 years. As Jennifer B. relays: "I let my almost 4 year-old play in the backyard when I am inside. I started letting him do this when he was 3. We have a small fenced-in yard and he can't really get into much trouble, though I do check on him every few minutes."
For an open front yard, you may want to wait until your child is older to reduce other threats, namely automobile traffic. Nicole D. shares: “We live in a brand new development and people drive fast through the neighborhood.”
Can (and Will) Your Child Follow Rules?
Regardless of what age moms begin allowing their children to play outside alone, nearly all parents we surveyed seem to agree on an important safety practice: setting boundaries.
Candace S. relays: "I have made a rule that he has to stay on the grass (not in the parking lot) and right in front of our flat - if I see him go off the grass he comes inside for a time-out." And Courtney J. agrees: "[My daughter] knows that the breaking of any rule results in being inside for the rest of the day. She has not yet once broken a single rule."
A related consideration is your child’s personality; specifically, your child's ability and willingness to follow the rules you outline for outdoor play. As Amber W. shares: “My kids are also very good at staying put. I think it's the kids' personalities and where you live that should determine whether or not they can be outside by themselves for any length of time.”
How Well Can You Supervise from Indoors?
In addition to considering location and setting rules, many Circle of Moms members advise that supervision is also important (whether your's or another trusted person's). Some moms essentially park themselves by a window while kids are outside; others like Kristie R. suggest using a kitchen timer as a reminder to check on kids who are playing outdoors by themselves frequently.
Meanwhile, Susie F. found that even while living in a city environment, her daughter could play safely outside at around age 3 because local parents kept an eye on all neighborhood kids rather than just their own: “Just our street alone had at least 15 kids. They'd all be on their trikes and bikes. There would always be at least 1 adult sitting outside their building at some point. If any kid got hurt or they were hitting or being bad, you could trust that at least 6 would come running to your door to let you know.”
Ultimately, the decision comes down to your level of comfort. If you decide you're not ready for your child to play outdoors until she's in 5th grade, you won't be alone! As Michelle L. shares: "Maybe I'm over-protective but my little boy is almost four and I can't imagine letting him play by himself. My poor kid won't be playing himself till he's at least 9 or 10."
How did you decide the right age to allow your child to play outdoors alone?