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When Should You Let Your Child Play Outside Alone?

When Should You Let Your Child Play Outside Alone?

Your little one wants to play in the yard, but you've got dinner to make and messes to clean up...is it okay to let your child play outside alone while you get things done inside? To help you decide what age is right for your child, we put the question to Circle of Moms members. Here are the essential factors our members recommend considering.

How Safe is Your Location?

Stranger danger is the top concern related to allowing a child of any age to play outside alone. As a result, moms stress the importance of considering your neighborhood's safety before alowing solo playtime outside. As Erica B. cautions: “I will not let my children play outside by themselves in an open area...that's how too many children get kidnapped. If for some reason I cannot be outside with my children then they come in the house with me.” Rindy S. expresses a similar opinion: “We live in a fairly small town in a good neighborhood. I would think twice about sending her out by herself if we lived in a different location.” 

Among moms who do feel comfortable with the safety of their neighborhood, permitting solo play in a fenced-in backyard often starts as early as age 3-4 years. As Jennifer B. relays: "I let my almost 4 year-old play in the backyard when I am inside. I started letting him do this when he was 3. We have a small fenced-in yard and he can't really get into much trouble, though I do check on him every few minutes."

For an open front yard, you may want to wait until your child is older to reduce other threats, namely automobile traffic. Nicole D. shares: “We live in a brand new development and people drive fast through the neighborhood.”

Can (and Will) Your Child Follow Rules?

Regardless of what age moms begin allowing their children to play outside alone, nearly all parents we surveyed seem to agree on an important safety practice: setting boundaries.

Candace S. relays: "I have made a rule that he has to stay on the grass (not in the parking lot) and right in front of our flat - if I see him go off the grass he comes inside for a time-out." And Courtney J. agrees: "[My daughter] knows that the breaking of any rule results in being inside for the rest of the day. She has not yet once broken a single rule."

A related consideration is your child’s personality; specifically, your child's ability and willingness to follow the rules you outline for outdoor play. As Amber W. shares: “My kids are also very good at staying put. I think it's the kids' personalities and where you live that should determine whether or not they can be outside by themselves for any length of time.”

How Well Can You Supervise from Indoors?

In addition to considering location and setting rules, many Circle of Moms members advise that supervision is also important (whether your's or another trusted person's). Some moms essentially park themselves by a window while kids are outside; others like Kristie R. suggest using a kitchen timer as a reminder to check on kids who are playing outdoors by themselves frequently.

Meanwhile, Susie F. found that even while living in a city environment, her daughter could play safely outside at around age 3 because local parents kept an eye on all neighborhood kids rather than just their own: “Just our street alone had at least 15 kids. They'd all be on their trikes and bikes. There would always be at least 1 adult sitting outside their building at some point. If any kid got hurt or they were hitting or being bad, you could trust that at least 6 would come running to your door to let you know.”

 

Ultimately, the decision comes down to your level of comfort. If you decide you're not ready for your child to play outdoors until she's in 5th grade, you won't be alone! As Michelle L. shares: "Maybe I'm over-protective but my little boy is almost four and I can't imagine letting him play by himself. My poor kid won't be playing himself till he's at least 9 or 10."

How did you decide the right age to allow your child to play outdoors alone?

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CoMMember136188227799671361882777 CoMMember136188227799671361882777 2 years
Ask your parents how often they played by themselves. Then ask them what hey thought about it. Child abductions make front page news and they are oh so rare! This is what I don't understand: a bad thing could happen any time anywhere. You couldbd held gunpoint tomorrow while shopping! But we don't think about that stuff! Y our kids want to be free and learn about the world. I'm scared that our children are growing up in a bubble wrapped world
LinziAnnear LinziAnnear 3 years
I think taking in concideration of the childs personality matters and how mature they are i used to let my daughter play outside in my front garden as neighbours kids would come play with her and stroke the cat. A little girl april jones has gone missing cant let her out its too worring!!!
KarenMedcalf10560 KarenMedcalf10560 4 years
Oh I forgot to mention my almost 9 yr old daughter has taken self defense classes....I know it's not foolproof but better than nothing.
KarenMedcalf10560 KarenMedcalf10560 4 years
My daughter is 8 and will be 9 in 8 days. Even though we live in a nice neighborhood, we are off a main road and very close to a highway entrance. We didn't let her even begin to go past the first cross street to the other end of the next street until this past year. When she is looking for someone to play with, we let her go to 1 house, if they can't play she has to come home first and tell us where she is going next. This is repeated with every visit until she finds a friend to play with. Either my husband or I stand in the front yard with phone in hand until we get a call from her saying she is at so and so's house. She is instructed to call us, or a parent of the child she is visiting will call us to let us know when it's time to come home so we can watch for her. IF she is not within immediate sight of our house we, or a parent from the child she is visiting will call and we or they will bring her home. We are in a very large neighborhood so my thoughts are always better safe than sorry. We go over the stranger danger thing at least 3 to 4 times a year as a reminder.We do have the best neighbors though. Everyone looks out for everyone!!
CherrylYelland CherrylYelland 4 years
Fortunately I live in a secure complex with a well walled off front and back garden. You have to walk through my house to get to the back garden - there's no way round the entire garden on the outside. I let my 3 year old twins play in front - I watch them them ALL the time - I open all the blinds and curtains on the front facing windows so if I am busy inside (and not outside with them) I can monitor them at all times.I think it will be a very long time still before I leave them outside unsupervised!
DawnRandazzo DawnRandazzo 4 years
Wow! I cannot believe how many neglectful parents there are. 2 and 3 year old outside alone? Wow! What is wrong with people? Children that age can so easily be injured or kidnapped or wander off, even if it's out of character for them. Why would a mom EVER take any kind of chance with the safety of their children? My neighbors just lost their 2 small children to DCFS for exactly this reason. They were outside playing alone and a car stopped and called the police. My youngest is 8 and she is never allowed outside alone. To many bad things can happen to a child that age. I'm willing to bet these are the same parents leaving these small children unattended in the bathtub as well. Reading this has almost made me lose hope in humans.
ClarissaScott67695 ClarissaScott67695 4 years
Oh Yes by all means, it just takes 39 seconds to kidnap a child. So think twice.
JennRawlines JennRawlines 4 years
Strangers snatching children happens wayyy less then you think, most kidnappings are a case of a relative or parent taking the child or someone else who is known to their victim. Not saying it does not happen but it is rare, although the worse cases are the ones we are familier with because they make the best story. I do not want to raise a child who fears every person they dont know will harm them, i want to teach them to use their instinct and if they feel uncomfortable or get a bad vibe to get out of the situation, but i dont want them to be in trouble and afraid to ask someone for help because they are a "stranger". I talk to strangers all the time while out with my children, whether at the grocery store while in line or small talk on the bus. And there have been a few times when my son has said "Mommy that man was weird", he gets a bad vibe, and usually i felt the same way. Children have very good instincts beleive it or not. I want my child to view the world as an overall good place. I think it is very important to reach out to and get to know your neighbors, that way when someone is in the neighborhood that looks like trouble people notice because they seem out of place and you can alert each other. I feel reassured that in the event of an emergency my son would be able to go to a neighbor for help. Kids that are over-sheltered grow up ill-prepared to deal with the real world. You cant pick and choose who you work with, go to school with, live by, etc..There are all types of people good and bad and you must learn to live with and interact with all of them.
JennRawlines JennRawlines 4 years
I let my son play outside alone when he was four, but he had to stay in the yard and I kept the window open and checked frequently. He has always been very good with not taking off and if a stranger walks by he would come over to the window and tell me. He is five now and i let him have pretty much free reign over the front, sides and back of my house as well as the little field beside it. He has never took of and loves driving his bike up and down the sidewalk out front and skateboarding in the driveway. I live at a dead end though so traffic is not much of an issue for me, he is a very street smart kid and i have a lot of confidence in him as far as playing alone. I do still check on him though and call his name out the window occasionally. I even let him take his little sister who is 2 out and play but he must stay in the back yard if he is playing with her and i keep the window open so i can hear them and check often. It really depends on the child. I let my child do a lot of things some other parents are like "You don't think he will hurt himself??". Nope, i know my son and what he is capable of. He rides a dirtbike, a two wheeler without training wheels, ramps and does stunts on his skateboard and bike (he even has trick pegs on his bike), he has his own pellet gun and goes hunting with daddy (its locked when he isnt using it with daddy though), he has his own little workshop in the shed where he "builds" stuff with his real tools (no power tools without daddy though or sharp ones like saws etc). I really believe that unstructured free-play and the ability to explore and climb, run, jump are very important for a child. I think parents these days are wayyyy to worried about every little thing and overprotect our kids to the point that we hinder their development. We raise them to be afraid of everything, that all strangers are bad, that everything is dangerous and the world is a place to be feared. In reality we live in a pretty safe place (most of us do) it is just that the media is constantly throwing horrible kidnappings and disappearances and such all over the news. Not every stranger is a serial killer, i like to think there is more good in the world then bad. What happened to the good ol' "come in when the street lights come on" days:(
MallaryMadill MallaryMadill 4 years
Wow!! Some of these responses are insane!!! I agree with letting your child have freedom! They need to feel independent and to feel in charge, and have the chance to make good decisions, but that doesn’t mean that you need to throw all caution to the wind! To the people saying that "oh the neighbours watch out for them" why is it their responsibility to watch your children?? Also do you really think that your neighbour who is a pedophile is really going to tell you? NO, they aren't. Pedophiles don't have many restrictions to where they live. I lived 2 blocks from an elementary school as a child and there was one living in the same apartments as me, and he did in fact rape 2 of my friends, I was only spared because my mom called me in for dinner. It all happened out in the open where many children played, it was during daylight hours and we were around 8 years old when it happened. So just because there are other kids around doesn't mean they are safe. It doesn't mean that nothing will happen to them. And it doesn't mean that your child will be able to scream and warn you. So without supervision your child is never safe. Of course you can't live in fear all the time either. I live in a "gated community" on the edge of town backing onto a forest. The children around here are not ones I will allow either of my children to hang out with. The things they say are worse than most adults I know!!! Little 9 year old boys talking about how they are going to put dildos in the other kids butt is NOT okay. But these unsupervised children don't have boundaries because the parents aren't there to correct it or prevent it. So, no my children don't go outside to play by themselves the cons out weigh the pros tenfold. When I am visiting my mom I will allow my 4 year old to play outside with the dogs in the 10 foot fenced off yard. But i am standing by the window to keep an eye on what he is doing and what he is saying. He is only 4 and still at the stage of testing boundaries. Oh and the dogs that he is outside with are 1) a German Shepard x lab and 2) a border collie x pit bull, and I fully trust in them, I KNOW that if there is someone, person or animal, in my mother’s yard that I cannot see, they will let me know. When at my dad's house out in the country he isn't allowed outside without me AND the dog, cougars, bobcats, lynx, horses, deer, moose, etc., can all harm a small child in a matter of seconds. So you as a parent know what is best for your child, just don’t take things so lightly, and consider even the ugly things that could happen. Like I said children need freedom, independence and the chance to make good decisions, but they need you to parent them too. Watch your children, teach your children, play with your children because those memories will be much fonder then being able to play in the front yard alone. I’m sorry if I offend anyone, I am simply going by the things I know personally. If my child is outside, so am I, with the exception of my mother’s house. There are too many threats/hazards that a 4 year old cannot protect them from. I do take my kids to the park frequently to play with them and let them play too or for walks at our local nature center. I have taught my oldest about the dangers of animals, traffic, strangers, and water. I even took him to a class to teach him about poop so he knows what kind of animals he may be around (it was super gross but super informative). Sorry for the length too! :) Be safe!
JeanetteWilliams75465 JeanetteWilliams75465 4 years
I think it's extremely sad that kids can't play outside alone. When I was a kid I lived outside and my mom was only outside if doing yardwork. I think if kids are educated enough by us as parents on what to do and what not to do, there should be no reason why they can't play outside as long as they're old enough. My daughter has played outside alone with neighbor kids from two different houses since she was 5 (she's now 8) and I trust her to obey the rules. I am more than comfortable letting her run around all day long, and she sleeps like a baby every night. Our yard is not fenced in, but we do live in a "safe" neighborhood. We also have very frequent talks on what to do if a stranger approaches, plus she's not allowed near the road, and has to cut through the yards of her friends.
hollyvilla38647 hollyvilla38647 4 years
I did let them go out and play, but my 3 yr old sometimes would try to go in the street or go by it. Lately there has been kidnappings and i feared it so now i go out with them.
yvonnestiles yvonnestiles 4 years
i would never allow a child under at least 10 to play alone in an open area i guess i'm lucky in respect that i have a closed back garden and can see the kids outside from my kitchen and dinning room windows so can let my kids out to play anytime.
DorshaSwartz DorshaSwartz 4 years
We let our 2 year old play out side while we are carrying and putting away groceries, but we can see him clearly from the front door, and we live out in the middle of no where and we are the last house of a dead end road so really there is no road for him to run into. And at my moms house its fenced in so I let him go out there to play and just check on him every little while. But yeah, even here, that is as long as we let him be outside alone... because he doesn't listen super well. And it only takes like five minutes TOPS to put away all our weekly groceries..
TabbiBowman TabbiBowman 4 years
My son is 4 and I have no problem letting him play in the backyard that is fenced in for a few minutes while I finish up in the kitchen or grab something cold for us to drink. I'm usually out there chilling with a book while he plays.
kathybunning kathybunning 4 years
whats wrong with you! as parents. Children need to be outside playing we molly codle our chidren to much.thats why they have problems in later life. kids not been able to make the right choice's .getting bored and into trouble,waiting for someone else to find them something to do.because they never had the chance to learn to play outside when they were little.
CoMMember13631154701109 CoMMember13631154701109 4 years
It takes less than 2 minutes for someone to snatch a child. I'm not taking willing to take the chance, even tho I do live in what would be considered a safe neighborhood
DanielleMorton96944 DanielleMorton96944 4 years
wow reading this i must be a bad mum cuz my 4 yr old and 18month old play outside in our locked back yard on their own all the time admittedly i'm usually in the kitchen or laundry at the back of the house i don't have a problem i can hear where they are and no one can get in our yard
HeidiBrown26707 HeidiBrown26707 4 years
My son from the age of 4yrs has attended Tae Kwon Do. Its very good as they did an exercise 'Stranger Danger'. We live in a cul de sac, we have older children who are allowed up the road onto a grass area still within the cul de sac however it is out of my site., Luke has always respected me and if he is asked by an older boy to go up on to the grass. Luke will turn around and say I'm not allowed. Luke is almost 7yrs I have started allowing him up the grass with the older children. My son will always ask me if he is allowed first and doesn't just go up without my knowing. The trouble I have experienced is, the older boys invite my son then he comes back saying so and so hit me. !?! so from a bullying point I have avoided him going with certain children. The funniest thing was when he came home on one occasion and said 'mum so and so tried to kick me. When I asked my son what he did, he replied 'I dodged him' Tae Kwon Do really does have its benefits. My son can act in self defence and is confident. Therefore I'm a happy mum. :-)
BeckiDavidson BeckiDavidson 4 years
MY children go in back garden alone hav been since about 3 they r close in age so always together. I don't c aproblem if its secure and ur own garden. U can't really trust anyone or anythink these days but if u didn't allow a child some freedom it wouldn't b healthy for them.
KimRaederErbacher KimRaederErbacher 4 years
Just remember if you use other parents to sit outside and watch your child as Susie F does to make sure you alsobtake your turn sitting outside. We did that in our neighborhood and it ended up being the same parents sitting outside becoming very resentful of the parents that "used" the good parents who always sat out. I also found their children always the most unruly as well.
ColleenSmolen ColleenSmolen 4 years
As for all the comments about "Big dog turning," it's usually the little ones you have to worry about. They are usually more afraid and aggressive with children and I would know, I have 3 mini-dachshunds. My one is so bad that he is not allowed to be anywhere near my son without an adult between them. My sister always had bigger dogs and never had any issues with her girls. The yellow lad would let them dress her up. And as always, you must know your dog and child's limits and watch them. ANY dog could have a bad moment with anyone.
ColleenSmolen ColleenSmolen 4 years
If we lived in the community I grew up in, I would consider it but not in the neighborhood and county we are in. If i went missing from my yard, my would just call the neighbors to see who had an eye on me or they would call my mom. My community is not one like that so I would never let my son go out and about with out an adult I trust.
ErinCash ErinCash 4 years
This is all a little out of date. 'Stranger Danger' was distanced from law enforcement terms 10 years ago when statistics revealed it was your husband/ father/ uncle who was 99% more likely to offend against your child. 'Kidnapping predators' are the imaginative result of TV and crime series popularity. Put your kids in an enclosed yard and get them good self protection skills and buddy behaviour like at www.sweatdepot.com.au. Self protection should be taught with the same conviction as swimming to babies.
DeedraRoose DeedraRoose 4 years
When you consider the possibility of dangers like abduction and kidnapping, I don't think you can ever be too cautious with your kids. As they grow older, they will have plenty of time to play outside "on their own." And Really, our kids are only 2,3,4,5 for a very short time, so I think it pays off to spend more time with your kids and less time on dinner and chores. Lets enjoy our kids while they are young. They will grow up fast enough.
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