Do You Let Your Child Play Outside Alone with Neighborhood Kids?
We did for the first time this weekend. And it makes me happy…and sad…and a little worried.
On a recent Sunday morning Olivia (age 5) said, “Mama – can I ask you something,” “Sure,” I replied. “Do you think some day I can play with the girls that live next door?”
I was happily surprised by this question. You see – I wouldn’t say that Olivia is shy but she tends to be pretty reserved about instigating change and typically sticks close with a couple of friends rather than mingle. In fact, I can be the same way and felt as if maybe I wasn’t helping Olivia to make neighborhood friends.
What I didn’t realize was that all those times I saw kids playing in our neighborhood and wishing that Olivia would join in that she was hoping for the same thing. So how was I going to help her navigate this social experience? I recognized this as a big step in her growing independence and I didn’t want to mess it up.
Daddy to the rescue. Fast forward a week to a group of kids playing in the yard across the street. Olivia is playing alone in her room. Daddy calls her down to ask her if she wants to join them. I never saw her run so fast to get her shoes on. Of course she needs a wing man. Since Owen was being fussy Daddy takes this one too and walks her across the street.
I watch from the window. She hides behind daddy. He chats with the kids. She moves closer to the group. He leaves. She stands alone in the driveway. We watch from the window. One of the kids asks her to sit down closer to the other kids. She sits down. The kids get up to play tag. She joins in. They play basketball. She is running and smiling. Mommy is tearing up. Daddy is happy she’s finally outside playing with the neighbors and not watching TV. Success!
She ends up playing for a couple of hours before all the kids disperse for dinner. I have flashbacks to my childhood and countless hours of playing outside with various neighbors. I’m happy but sad – soon my little girl will no longer need me (or daddy) to navigate her friendships and oversee her play.
And it also has me worrying about her going off to play at a “not so near we can look out the window” neighbor’s house. We’ve never let her leave the yard without one of us accompanying her. I know we’ll have to establish rules that go along with this new independence. But she still seems fairly young to play “mostly” unsupervised even in our very safe neighborhood where we know all the families around us.
So how do you do it? Do you let your child play outside alone with neighborhood kids outside your yard? If so, what rules have you set up with your child? Do you constrain them to one child’s house unless being notified? Do you coordinate with the other neighborhood parents about who will be “on watch”? How do you teach your child to respond to an emergency (i.e. injury)?