Is your child ready to travel independently in your community?
Much of parenting young children is about preparing and celebrating for milestones – first full night asleep, first haircut, first day at kindy, first “best friend”. Many of these milestones will be a big deal for parents, while the child will not even recognise the important step forward that has been taken along the journey of childhood.
As parents, our job is to balance encouraging your child to be self-reliant, to embrace the development, while still protecting them.
One major milestone is when your child can travel to and from school without you. Taking that big step can be a real challenge for the parent – how do you evaluate if your child is ready? How do you encourage them to be out in the community while making them aware of dangers? H do you react and respond to them, while not scaring them?
Travelling alone is a critical step toward a child’s emerging independence but children need skills and knowledge to keep them safe before they take that step.
Neighbourhood Watch 4 Kids
Neighbourhood Watch Victoria has launched Neighbourhood Watch 4 Kids, an e-learning platform that helps parents evaluate if their child is ready to travel independently within the community, whether it be to a school, park or playmate’s house and on foot, bike or public transport.
The platform provides both interactive online activity – such as videos, virtual neighbourhoods, downloads, that parents and children can do together or separately, to prepare for the child to be out and about.
Some of the recommendations for how to prepare children (and parents) for moving around the local community without an adult include:
1. Take the route together
You and your child should set an agreed route to and from school to take every day and go with them on a test run. Familiarise your child with dangers they may encounter on the route, like reversing cars, strangers, roundabouts and road crossings by using the Neighbourhood Watch 4 Kids virtual neighbourhood tool.
2. Understand your child’s physical reaction to fear
Fear triggers physical changes, like butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms or wobbly legs known as “early warning signs”. Each child’s reaction to feeling unsafe is different so ask your child what they physically feel when they’re scared and recognise that feeling.
3. Create a personal network
Draw up a list of five trusted adults and their contact details. These are people a child regards as safe and who they can talk to about anything. It’s good to show a child safe places in the neighbourhood, like a library or police station, if they feel unsafe.
4. Teach your child the 3 Rs of unsafe situations
Teach your child to recognise and trust their early warning signs, then if someone makes them feel unsafe they must react by using key words like “stop”, “leave me alone” or “no”, and get away from the person making them feel unsafe. Once the child is out of danger, they should report what happened to a trusted adult in their personal network or a police officer.
5. Ensure they carry personal details
It’s important a child knows their home address, school, contact details for their parent or carer and contacts for emergency services and carries these details in a safe place, like a school bag.
6. Play games to teach them how to react in different scenarios
Spend time playing games to test how your child reacts in a series of situations such as being approached by a stranger, getting lost or falling off a bike and injuring themselves. Then teach them what to do.