How much independence will you give your 7-year-old?

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Boys, especially between 5 and 7 years old, start to request for more freedom and independence. But as Asian parents, we are by nature more cautious. How much independence will you give your child?

I have a friend who allows her son total freedom to roam around the condominium where she lives.  Her door is never locked and her 7-year-old son never informs her where he is going.

Every day after school, he runs out of the house in search of his friends in the neighbourhood and embarks on one adventure or another in the garden, playground, pool and neighbours’ homes.  Yet, every evening, he invariably finds his way home.

Luckily, she has a good network of neighbours in the condominium who help look out for him.  In this way, he is allowed the freedom to roam and explore freely within the boundaries of the condominium.

He is independent and fearless, and occasionally gives his mom a few near-heart-attacks (by falling into a drain or disappearing in new environments).

In case you are wondering, she is an Asian mum.

As Asian parents, we are by nature more cautious, sometimes a tad too cautious, if you ask me.  We are fearful for their safety, wary of strangers and paranoid of the unknown – courtesy of all the psycho-killer series like C.S.I and Criminal Minds.

When our children were toddlers and preschoolers, we fostered independence in them by encouraging them to pick out their own outfits and dress themselves, potty-trained them and taught them to be responsible for their toys and to follow simple clean up routines.  Somehow, as they approach school-age, we slacken on the independence highway.

Boys generally start to request for more freedom and independence at this age.  They want to take the elevator up by themselves.  They want to go to their neighbour’s house without an accompanying adult.  They crave adventures and enjoy being sent on “missions”.

Our reader, Jeannie Foo recently asked on our forum page: Would you let your child go downstairs to wait for the school bus on his/her own?

Her 7-year-old son had been requesting to be on his own when waiting for the school bus.  The general response from our local parents is Nay!

Not A Good Idea

Emily Eva Tan doesn’t think it’s a good idea.  And she has her supporters. Jaswinder Kaur Obias said that she wouldn’t “coz you never know when the bus is coming or if it’s gonna be late.” It’s not a good idea to leave a child unattended, she adds.

Zonna Ong also concurs.  “I wouldn’t let my daughter do that too.  She goes to school at 6:20am and its still quite dark… her bus comes at 6:30am.  There are cleaners and strangers walking around downstairs.  It might be dangerous.”

Elaine Gan also agrees that she would not allow her primary 1 son that much independence now as “he is still quite playful and she’s afraid that he’ll run to the road.”

The Right Kind Of Freedom?

While I am not as gung-ho as my friend when it comes to giving my 7-year-old total freedom, I have allowed him unsupervised freedom with guidelines.  For example, he could go downstairs to the Club House to get a drink from the vending machine and be up within 5 – 10 minutes, or he could go by himself to a neighbour’s house, but has to call me upon arrival.  If he forgets, his unsupervised privilege is suspended till further notice.

Madelene Cassandra Tan is on the same page.  She shares that she has allowed her 7 year old son supervised freedom since he was in K1.  She lets him go up to her sister’s house by himself but under her watchful eyes from downstairs.  “I also let him go up or down from my in law & parents' house with me waiting for him downstairs & calling them to double confirm that he had either come down or went up. He also went to the Singapore Post to help me post the mails monthly, with me waiting at the car park,” she adds.

Several Singaporean parents I spoke to concede that they permit their sons more freedom at an earlier age than their daughters. Depending on their maturity, boys as young as 5 are allowed supervised freedom, while girls are generally allowed the same freedom at 6 or 7.

Some parents even issue hand phones to their kids so that they are able to stay in touch in the event of a miscommunication or emergency.

If you think your child is ready for supervised freedom, here are some pointers to consider:

  1. Have a chat with your child about what it means to be independent and if he/she is willing to take that step. (Trust me, when they are ready, they will let you know)
  2. Run through the process of the journey (e.g. wait for the elevator or going up the stairs) and what the child should do upon reaching the destination (call mom on the phone or ask aunty to call mom).
  3. Highlight some safety pointers to the child (e.g. if there is a stranger in the elevator, don’t get in, or if the elevator breaks down, press the bell button to call for help).
  4. Help the child to understand about trust and responsibility (i.e. he/she is a big boy/girl and mummy/daddy trusts that they will do what they say they will do – e.g. call mom upon reaching destination).
  5. Highlight the consequence – e.g. if they forget to call you or they meander from their destination, they will not be allowed the independence and have to re-establish the trust cycle with you.
  6. Reiterate the process a few times – sometimes in their excitement, they may forget your instructions. Be forgiving but always reiterate that to have independence, they need to be responsible to acquire your trust.
  7. Work with a familiar surrounding and expand your trust slowly – arrange with your neighbour, play date mummy or family members that you are “training” your child to be independent.  Generally, they will cooperate with you. Slowly, extend it to school grounds or whatever feels comfortable for your family.

With this first step to adult independence, you will see you kid’s confidence and self esteem grow by leaps and bounds.