It’s always nerve-wracking when your child starts to go out and explore beyond the limits of your home or yard. When they’re out of your sight, you don’t know what’s happening to them at any given moment.
Still, playing in the neighborhood is a very healthy and natural way for a kid to learn about their surroundings. Instead of being worried about them every second, consider some of these ways to assure yourself they’ll be safe.
1. Keep in Touch With a Smart Device
If they don’t have one already, get your child a smart device they can use to communicate with you. This way they’ll always be able to call or text you for any reason and vice versa. Even better, you can get one with tracking capabilities so you can see where they are if you need to.
Consider a kids smartwatch that restricts internet access so your child won’t get distracted. After all, it’s far safer for them to be present in their surroundings than engrossed in a game on their phone. Whatever your choice of device, having these capabilities will make playtime a lot more comfortable for everyone.
2. Set a Curfew
A necessary aspect of outside play is knowing when to return — so set a curfew that works for you and your child. Make sure you explain your reasoning for it and establish light consequences for not following it. A curfew is a perfect strategy for getting your child inside at an appropriate time and keeping general tabs on them.
Alternatively, instead of imposing negative consequences, it may be more effective to give your child a positive reason to be punctual. For instance, if they make curfew, they might get an extra 20 minutes on their devices for the night. Having an appealing activity to return to will encourage them to obey the limits you’ve set.
3. Establish Neighborhood Borders
When you explored your neighborhood as a kid, you likely encountered areas that you either never entered or weren’t allowed to. High-traffic roads, construction sites, and other neighborhoods are all outside the boundaries of safe play for your child. Unfortunately, they’re also very enticing for growing bodies and inquiring minds, which can lead to unforeseen danger.
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Make it clear to your child where they aren’t allowed to go and explain to them why that’s the case. Strict boundaries with no explanation often have the adverse effect of making them more exciting to cross. If a child knows why they shouldn’t go somewhere — a construction site could equal serious injury, for example — they’re more likely to obey.
4. Encourage Them to Come to You With Questions
Following that thread, it’s important not only to be honest with your child but also to welcome honesty from them. You’ll have a better idea of how they act on their own simply by giving them space to discuss it. You can act as a guide without making them feel overly controlled (a feeling that can itself lead to misbehavior).
If your child is tempted to cross an established boundary, encourage them to reach out to you. If their friends want to go to a park outside the neighborhood, they can ask you instead of going without your knowledge. You may have to say no, but perhaps after considering any safety implications, you can say yes. By asking first, your child will have maintained your trust and will know where they can and can’t go on their own.
5. Discuss the Importance of Safety Gear
Kids get hurt — a lot. It’s part of growing up and getting used to the world around you. While bumps and bruises are an inevitable part of youth, you obviously want to prevent your child from experiencing serious injury. When new interests like bike riding or baseball arise, show them how to protect themselves from broken bones or worse.
This means providing helmets, shin guards, and the like and showing your child how to use them. It doesn’t mean wrapping them in bubble wrap for the entirety of their childhood! As long as the most vulnerable parts of their body are protected, they can play safely but unencumbered.
6. Show Them How to Be Safe Around Roads
Perhaps the most important lesson your child can learn regarding outside play is how to be safe around roads. They should look both ways before crossing, walk on the sidewalk or grass, and face oncoming traffic while doing so. If stickball or street hockey are popular neighborhood pastimes, teach them how to choose a safe area for play and watch for cars.
A safe area can be a cul-de-sac, dead-end, or empty lot of some sort — any place with few vehicles and low traffic speeds. Regardless of the activity, it’s important for them to stay in an area where traffic is predictable. And of course, they should always be paying attention and staying alert.
7. Teach Them How to Interact With Adults
During their adventures, your child will certainly encounter other adults — some whom they know and some whom they don’t. While children should be taught to show adults respect, they should also be taught about self-protection. Much of the time children are taught to listen to adults without question; instead, encourage them to think critically.
Teach them how to interact with adults they don’t know and impress upon them the importance of trusting their instincts. This includes saying no to things like rides or gifts from strangers and walking away from uncertain situations. The more educated they are on this subject, the safer you and they can feel.
Leaving the confines of your house or front yard is a rite of passage for any kid. Knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for their nervous parents. But with these precautions in place, you can let your child explore your neighborhood with less worry.