Preparing our children to play out safely without supervision – a parent’s perspective

In this guest blog article, Rachel Pitman, a mother of two daughters aged eight and twelve years old from Cardiff, shares her experiences of preparing her oldest child to play out independently.

From the age of around seven years old, I remember playing out regularly with friends in our neighbourhood. We would play Barbies out on the pavement, ride our skateboards down the hill, knock on each other’s houses to ‘come out and play’ or just hang around doing whatever came to our imaginations. Aside from the occasional dash back home for a snack, my parents would be largely out of the picture – busying themselves with their own boring grownup tasks.

My independence naturally increased – from age 10, I’d walk to the park alone, and from 12 years old, my friends and I would head to the local swimming pool. This was the norm for most children I knew – we were allowed to play out without our parents watching our every move. Admittedly, my childhood neighbourhood was a little quieter than where I live now as an adult, but cars were still present, as, I’m sure, were other risks – like disgruntled neighbours, stranger danger or things that could cause me physical harm.

Now as a parent, I’ve struggled with letting my children have the same level of independence that I had from such a young age. Whilst I want them to experience freedom, develop their resilience and get to know their neighbourhood, social norms have changed. It feels like we are more risk-averse and less trustful of our communities. Spaces for playing out seem more restricted to specific areas such as gardens, parks and playing fields – often across busy roads, where traffic feels like far more of a threat due to the number of cars around.

Nonetheless, my children are reaching an age where they want and need more independence. Understandably, they want to spend more time with their friends, without supervision. It started when my oldest child, then aged nine, wanted to go off exploring with her friends at the large park near our home, out of my sight. Then, at age 10, she wanted to walk to primary school and back each day with her friends. From these first steps into independence, she wanted to hang out at the local park or go off to spend her pocket money in the local cafés and charity shops… At almost 12 years old, she recently took her first trip on public transport into the city with her friends – a scary experience for me, but one she relished and felt confident in.

Whilst allowing my oldest child more independence to go off, play and hang out with friends, and be responsible for her own safety still feels a little daunting, there are a few things that have helped us navigate this as a family:

  • Being clear about where my child is going, who with, and when to be home.
  • Teaching my child about road safety and paying attention to her surroundings.
  • Making sure my child understands about ‘stranger danger’ and who to go to for help, such as the police, PCSOs, security guards, shop assistants.
  • A mobile phone – whilst deciding when our child was ready for a phone was a very personal choice, it has given us the peace of mind that we can stay in touch when she’s away from home.
  • Being familiar with who my child is hanging out with – such as their name, age, where they live and how they know each other.
  • Being open and honest about how we feel, and going at our own pace – which can sometimes mean saying ‘No’.

In this video, you can watch our family in action at the very start of when my children began playing independently, and how we managed this:

Ultimately, every parent’s experience is different and it comes down to knowing when your child is ready to become more independent. For our family, this continues to be a gradual process that we are figuring out together, one step at a time.

For help, take a look at the Playful Childhoods blog, Preparing your child to play outside safely and confidently.

Fun in the playground storybook

Previous article
Back to all blogs

Easy, stress-free outdoor play ideas

Next article