At what age should I allow my child to play alone outside?
Q: My child wants to play outside all the time. How old should they be before I can leave him outside alone for a few minutes?
The answer to this question depends on so many variables, so it's not possible to determine an overall age for when a child should be allowed to play outside alone. Consider the following factors as a guideline when you are deciding when it’s safe to let your child play outside alone:
ENVIRONMENT: Is your yard fenced in? If your yard is fenced in, then 5 to 6 years old is an appropriate age to allow your child to play outside alone for a few minutes at a time. If your yard is not fenced in, consider waiting until your child is around 8 years old before you allow them to be totally alone outside. No matter the age of your child, check on them regularly. Always keep in mind the possible dangers of leaving your child alone without your supervision. Without a fenced-in yard, you have to be aware of busy streets and cars that are too fast or aren’t safely driving through the neighborhood. Even if you trust your child, it’s not possible to always be aware of the dangers lurking out there…so supervision is key.
VISIBILITY: Can you actually see and hear your child outside from a window or door on the inside of your home? It is safer to make sure your child is within ear shot and/or is visible to you. Also, remember to observe the environment outside to check for any dangers before they go out to play. These dangers can include anything from broken lawn furniture or glass to faulty play equipment or toys, etc.
MATURITY LEVEL: How mature is your child? As parents and caregivers we become familiar with our child’s personality. Be mindful of certain questions such as: Is your child typically responsible? Would they leave your yard and go into a neighbor’s house without telling you? Is your child impulsive? Do they think before they act? Does your child play in a calm manner or are they real rough? Children need to be individually evaluated to determine their maturity level for playing outside alone. Does your child understand not to talk with strangers or go with them under any circumstance? Do they know not to run into the street? These are all things you need to ask yourself before allowing your child to play outside alone, especially for longer periods of time.
PLAYMATES: Does your child have siblings or friends to play with? When other children are around, they can look out for one another. Children are less vulnerable and safer when they play in a group than when a child plays alone. If something does happen, the other child(ren) can get help and tell an adult the circumstances. Have safety talks with children before you allow them to play alone outside. These talks should include your thoughts about strangers, possible hazards, outside boundaries, and any other outdoor rules you want to establish with them. If your child is old enough, have them memorize your address and phone number in case of an emergency. Have 9-1-1 and other emergency numbers posted in your home at all times.
The Village can help with your parenting concerns. For more information, call 800-627-8220 or contact us online.