PARENTING TODAY: August is the time to teach kids about independence

It’s one month until the kids go back to school and there’s one thing you can be doing now to help them prepare for their return. Teach them how to get there.

How to get from their front door to the door of their new classroom. It’s important to start planning your child’s trip to his school.

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We tend to forget that while the curriculum is the main point of going to school, gaining independence is also a factor. One part of that is learning, as a process, how to take one’s self from home to school.

For most of you, you do that by going for a walk. And not just any walk, but a walk to your child’s school. It’s time to teach her how to get around on her own safely.

Getting to school is an important life skill and August is the perfect time to teach your kids how to make the trip.

You may be thinking, we can’t let our kids walk to school on their own. Well, it’s not a case of we can’t, it’s a case of we won’t. We choose not to let our children go. We can do it, and we can do it in a way that is safe and positive for our children.

So, now is the time to take the bull by the horns and determine what you need to do to ensure that your child has the skills and knowledge to get herself safely to and from school.

Step outside with her and start walking and while you walk, talk. Tell her why you chose this route and point out the homes of friends.

Teach her to stay on the sidewalk and to look both ways before crossing the street. Identify potential hazards. Tell her to make eye contact with drivers before walking in front of their car at a stop light. Go into any local stores so that the storeowners know and recognize your child.

Then after a few trips, have her take the lead and you follow. It’s a process and by the first day of school she will be ready to make the trip on her own. OK, you will likely want to go all the way with her on the first day, but then let her go.

If you are simply not ready to let her go on her own, create a walking school bus. This is simply a group of children walking together under the supervision of an adult. It’s kind of like carpooling in that the parents involved take turns being the walking adult.

You choose a route, the kids join the group and hopefully, over time, the kids will be able to continue on their own without an adult.

This is an important skill and it will benefit your kids for the rest of their lives.

The goal is to allow her to start to take some responsibility for herself. She learns her way around your neighbourhood and experiences the good feeling of taking charge of one small piece of her life.

An obvious second benefit is that she will be getting regular exercise. And if she’s like most kids she’ll not just walk sedately, she will hop, run, jump and skip.

When she gets to her classroom she will be ready to settle down and focus on school work. Kids who have been driven are likely to be antsy because they need some exercise before they can settle down to learn.

Our parenting job is to raise our children to become capable young adults. Children who do not know how to get themselves from one place to another have a challenge in becoming capable.

If they have learned that their parents will take them everywhere, they will have problems going downtown for job interviews, getting on a plane to head to the post-secondary institution of their choice or simply going out to a movie with friends. It’s a process. First, they walk to school, then they may need to take a city bus to middle or high school, then they go to the mall on the bus with their friends. Eventually they’ll drive the family car.

Being able to get themselves from one place to another is their responsibility. When we make sure they have all the information they need to go where they need to go, they take on the responsibility to make it happen.

When we do it for them, they do not need to be at all responsible for their activities. If we want our kids to grow to be responsible adults, it’s important that we start with the small things when they are school age. Then when they need to take responsibility for larger decisions, they will be ready.

All of this combines to be part of the picture of helping children develop high self-esteem.

When our child can look at himself in the mirror and know that today he got himself to and from school, that he arrived on time and that he had a good time doing so, he feels good about himself.

When she’s getting regular exercise, she will feel better physically, and this leads to her feeling good about herself. Being healthy and successful go a long way to a child’s positive self-image.

Head out the door, and make the initial walk to school.

Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker and author of Vive la Différence, Who’s In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.

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