Letting My ONLY CHILD, Age 6, Cross the Busy Street by Herself

It’s spring. Time to let the kids have some of the freedom we all enjoyed. Study ahdbfbzzhk
after study shows that kids NEED free time and independence for the sake of their bodies, minds, spirit. Here’s how one mom — and her child — took the leap:

I live in Park Slope, a largely residential but very urban neighborhood in Brooklyn.  I have a 6-year-old daughter, and my husband and I have been disagreeing about when to let her out and about by herself.  She takes the bus to school, but we haven’t come to any agreement about when she can be trusted to walk the one block up and across (with three street crossings) to the bus stop: I say second grade, he says not until she’s 12.  But she is well practiced in handling her own commercial transactions (going into the pizza joint alone with money and coming out with a slice and change, etc. — but only when mom is waiting just outside).

My husband usually takes our daughter out after dinner to the ice cream shop around the corner (requiring the crossing of one busy city street). But since he was away at a volunteer meeting last night when she wanted her after-dinner treat, I took the liberty of giving her a quick update on street-crossing rules, and a five-dollar bill, and I sent her on her way.

I was standing in our front yard, so I could watch her cross to the ice cream shop and back, although honestly, I wouldn’t have been close enough to solve any problems she might encounter.

All was uneventful.  But what really warmed my CPS-fearing heart was that there were at least three people outside near my door who observed us and figured out what was happening.

The thing is:  we live on a bus stop, so there are ALWAYS people standing around our door.  As I gave my daughter her final instructions about crossing — don’t just wait for the green light, but also for cars to actually stop moving — several bus-waiters were obviously hearing what transpired.  I trust my child, I trust my ability to teach my child how to navigate through the world, and I trust my own ability to judge when my child is ready for certain responsibilities. What I don’t trust is my fellow humans’ ability to refrain from calling the cops when I Take My Child to the Park And Leave Her There.

Tonight changed all that.

I watched the crosswalk from my yard and waited for my child (my ONLY  child, did I mention that?) to reappear, all the while timing the trip in my head. At what point would it change from “long line for ice cream because it’s finally spring-ish” to “long delay because the crazy guy in the windowless van snatched my child by asking her to help him find his missing puppy”?  But even more importantly, I watched the man to my left, leaning against the office building, and the woman to my right, standing expectantly by the bus stop sign, as THEY watched the crosswalk with the same concerns.

When my daughter reappeared, we ALL smiled and cheered.  When she got back home with her vanilla soft-serve cone (and her change!) we ALL celebrated.  I was so neurotic and paranoid that I still felt compelled to turn to them both and explain: “It’s her first time going alone, I’ve been teaching her a little at a time…” And they both reassured me that they understood and supported what I was doing.

Anyway, it’s a long story but just my way of saying I feel like the tide is really turning and the general public has figured out that parents are better at raising children than helicopters are.  In any event, I feel better about my future independence lessons after today.  And I feel better about Park Slope!

Just thought I should share, because you make me feel like I’m not crazy (or not the ONLY crazy)!

Best wishes,


P.S.  I asked my daughter Marjorie what she would say to you about today’s trip, and she said:  “Tell her, ‘Marjorie says to say hello to you.  She thought she might never come back, because she was scared.  Marjorie learned that you should be brave, even when you’re doing something that makes you scared.'”

Don’t feel bad that she was afraid. It IS scary to do something grown up for the first time. Confidence comes from facing that fear.

No word on what the husband/dad’s feelings, of course, but if he’s anything like the people I help on my TV show or when I do a “Free-Range House Call” (here’s a story on one), my guess is he will be so proud of his daughter, the joy will crowd out the fear. – L.


Park Slope, Brooklyn, where crossing the street is not taken lightly.

Park Slope, Brooklyn, where crossing the street is not taken lightly.


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23 Responses to Letting My ONLY CHILD, Age 6, Cross the Busy Street by Herself

  1. hineata April 6, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    I am so jealous of Marjorie! Having a pizza place just up the road, and an ice cream shop around the corner….Good for her!

    Am not sure, either, if my kids would let me out alone in New York (well, Brooklyn, is that part of the same?), 😊, because I still suck at big city traffic. Long may children be allowed to go out there by themselves, as, should I be lucky enough to get there, I will probably have to ask some obliging child to fetch an ice cream for me, too 😀.

  2. Warren April 6, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    That is about the only thing I miss now that we live out in the sticks, is the all that is available within walking distance, in the city.

    Soon this young lady will be the Queen of her block. All the shop owners will get to know her, look forward to seeing her, and probably sneak her the odd treat now and again. The way things should be.

    Bravo Mom. I it hard to let our kids do things that scare the crap out of us, but we have to let them do it.

    I have friends that feared letting their brood go out into the world. They always told me their fears were valid. I told them that their fears are not valid, as they are their fears, and not their kid’s fears. It took them awhile, and I think other kids in the area with freedom, but now they have a hard time keeping them home.

  3. Stephen Bradley April 6, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    Fair play to Majorie and her daughter! We are an Irish/French family living on Reunion Island so our experience is very different from the US one (at least as far as I can see from reading the news, blogs etc). Things here are far more free range (kids misbehaving are likely to be told off by any nearby adult and kids who are upset likely to be comforted by any nearby adult too) but traffic is the the that terrifies me most when it comes to our kids (the idea of stranger danger is like the idea of a meteorite hit, devastating if it happens but so unlikely that we really don”t factor it into our day to day lives). That being said if we didn’t live on a blind corner with no footpath I’d be happy sending our 8 and 6 year old kids the 500m or so to their school on their own.

  4. gpo613 April 6, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

    Obligatory back in my day comment here. I can remember when my grandmother would come over and give me and my brother each $0.26. We could buy a candy bar or two pieces of candy. We would walk up the street to the local store. We didn’t have a to cross a busy street. But we used to have to cross a busy street to go to the rec center or miniature golf place. On Mondays during the day I could play all the min golf I wanted for $1.

    It was such a fun time to grow up. Sure we got bored sometimes, but we roamed the neighborhood a ton, especially once we got our bikes. A bike to a 10 year old was almost like a car to a 16 year old.

  5. Katie April 6, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    I know how this mom feels. I see all those comments from moms who won’t let their son’s use the men’s restrooms by themselves (some are upwards to 10-12) years old. I have been letting my 5 year old go inside by himself for about six months (so he was the older side of 4 when he started). He likes to use the urinals. I always feel when reading those comments that somehow I’m doing something wrong letting him go in by himself. He goes in, does his business, and comes out without a hitch every time.

    Her comment about CPS fearing heart is dead on. Even something as simple as letting my two kids play in our fenced in back yard makes me worry about a phone call

  6. Donald April 6, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Well done!

    I’m not trying to debate whether or not 6 is the correct age to cross the street by herself. Yes it can be dangerous. However, stifling children’s development of self reliance is also dangerous. Often children rise up to your expectations. This works the other way as well. Often children will lower down to your expectations. Treating children as morons (for their own safety) will encourage them to be morons.

    This is why we have 20 year olds today that say, “*@$%*# I’m an adult! I want you to treat me like one! But only when it’s convenient for me. I want you to babysit me whenever adversity rears its ugly head. I can’t handle the stress.”

    I’m dead set against people considering one side only. Both sides need to be considered. I wrote about this on my blog


  7. lollipoplover April 6, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

    Confidence comes from knowing you are capable. Conquering fears and giving kids the “You can do this” attitude, like this mom, is just grew parenting. Love to hear stories like this, and especially the others who cheered her on!

  8. Taradlion April 6, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

    Good for mom. Great for kid.
    I have to wonder what the two bystanders would have done if mom hadn’t been standing outside.

  9. kathy April 6, 2015 at 8:29 pm #

    I had my kid cross a 1 way street with clear visability by herself at 5 and when she didn’t come back, I went to find her (I was in the park with no sight lines to her). She was being held by an adult who was worried with the support of others. Sheesh. This was in Jersey City. I was so embarassed and confused. I felt she was good to go. Later I realized they were in the wrong. Not me.

    Now I live in a suburb with no sidewalks and my kids are learning how to walk on the side of the street and to wear reflectors at night and they love to feel bin and have freedom.

  10. Sandi April 7, 2015 at 12:19 am #

    Well done, Sara! I know exactly how you felt. I felt the same way the first time I let the kids ride their bikes around the block in our little town (they were 6 & 7). Now they sometimes ride all the way to the dollar store on Main St. and I feel fine with it. We always discuss the exact route they’ll be taking and review street crossing instructions. They do just fine with it and they are so proud to show me the things they’ve purchased with their own money. Last time, they even bought gifts for me and my husband and gift wrapped them when they got home. You’ll see that a year from now, this will all seem much less scary.

  11. sigh April 7, 2015 at 2:10 am #

    Oh, Lord. Here’s hoping Dad comes around.

    It’s tense in a marriage, when one parent “gets it” and the other clings to fear and doubt.

    And if the marriage ends, God forbid, let me tell you, it’s a special kind of hell to co-parent when there are hugely diverging views of what constitutes “good parenting” and “the best interests of the child.”

    May the tide turn so much that not only need we not fear the “strangers” who witness our encouraging our kids to grow up and learn turning us in to the authorities, but we need not fear our ex-spouses who threaten to call CPS when the kid reaches a milestone they don’t approve of.

  12. Richard April 7, 2015 at 10:00 am #

    Our six year old only recently had her first adventure across a relatively quiet street by herself – she got to go to the coffee shop a block over from us and buy cinnamon rolls for breakfast. When she got back she was literally vibrating with excitement and pride. Even though we believe in a lot of Free Range ideals and concepts, its still difficult to push our kid gently out of the nest when it feels like few or none of her peers are doing the same. Still, someone always has to be first, right?

  13. Anna April 7, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    My son is 3, so no solo street-crossing yet, but the other day when his friend left his shoes at our house and we needed to return them, he insisted (forcefully!) that he be allowed to take them there himself. The friend lives just two doors down our street, so it was no big deal, but he was so proud of doing it himself.

  14. Papilio April 7, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    “Our six year old only recently had her first adventure […]– she got to go to the coffee shop”


    Sorry. I’m used to the Amsterdam meaning of ‘coffee shop’… 😀

  15. Melissa April 8, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

    My husband was raised by a uber-paranoid mother (now an uber uber paranoid grandmother). He has trouble letting go, and has a lot of anxiety about some of the things I allow the kids to do. He goes with it, but as they get older and the freedoms get wider, he is starting to occasionally push back. For instance, my son is 5.5 this summer, turning 6 in October. I now let him play outside in our unfenced yard or driveway by himself, or ride his bike around the block without crossing the street (we live on a fairly busy through-road). Dad thinks it’s “unsafe” but hasn’t tried to stop the activity. So we’ll see what happens!

  16. Warren April 8, 2015 at 4:42 pm #


    Mayber we could talk Lenore into starting a thread just for all of us to swap insane stories of paranoid parents and grand parents. Because sounds like you have some, and I know I have some.

  17. Amanda Matthews April 8, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    So, wait – she’s going directly against her husband when he isn’t home? I’m not down with that. Sit down and have a conversation about how you can’t let his fears run the daughter’s life, but don’t wait until he leaves and then tell the kid to go get ice cream.

  18. Reziac April 9, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    Things haven’t changed much where I lived back when I was a tot, and the town isn’t much bigger now, so I’ll hang these out as examples:

    Here’s the busy street I crossed BY MYSELF on my 6th birthday (from the two-story brick building to the corner with the photgraphy building):
    Where the photography building is now was then a neighborhood grocery. My mom sent me to get cake flour for my birthday cake. In fact I had to go twice, because first time I didn’t have enough money with me. (Which made this otherwise-mundane event highly memorable. It probably wasn’t my first trip.) I already knew all about watching the lights and looking both ways for traffic.

    Here’s looking along the street (one block away from the above) I crossed every day BY MYSELF on my way to kindergarten, between my 5th and 6th birthdays:

    And I just now realised that one of the streets I crossed BY MYSELF to go to church from age 6-10 ….was a state highway.

    Can your child cross these streets?? My mom’s kids could. My mom’s kids could go anywhere, safely and confidently.

  19. Melissa April 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    Warren, oh my god. Could I. My own parents are pretty cool with the free range movement (actually they’re perplexed because it’s a “thing” – they’re pretty sure that that’s just parenting).

    My husband tries very hard, he *knows* it’s better my family’s way. But actually letting go is more challenging.

    My mother in law was a helicopter when it wasn’t fashionable. Now she has an entire world justifying her insanity. And it is truly truly insane. She has trouble even pretending to hide her fear for my children in the face of my obvious neglect. Luckily she lives more than an hour away.

    Here’s an example, in response to my sister-in-law’s (husband’s brother’s partner) facebook post allowing her 10-year-old to walk to school by himself (yay, SIL!)

    “It’s very hard to do, there is always a fear feeling and wondering if he made it OK. Every mother goes through it in one way or another. And trust me B—, it does not get easier. They all grow up and want their independance but the mothering and love for their children never gets less. Even when they are mature men, I just want to hold them, see them, talk and laugh with them. The hardest thing I had to learn and still having trouble some days, is to let go. If you didn’t worry, B— [oh, and here’s a cut to me, the other, evil daughter in law], you wouldn’t be such a great mother. I even find myself worrying about my boys when the weather is bad, financially, health wise and every other way. It is so true when one says “Your children are your life.””

    Her boys are 38 and 33 years old.

    This is not just saved for Facebook. Oh no. Imagine it in person, at Christmas dinner, with accompanying teary eyes.

  20. Warren April 10, 2015 at 2:21 pm #


    I drove my former MIL nuts. Back when the kids were young we had a trailer in the same park as the inlaws.
    From the time we got there to the time we left the kids were on the go. During the day we would only see them when they wanted something. Drink, food, money or their swimsuits. Sometimes they would come back alone for fuel, other times they had a gang of hungry thirtsy hoodlums with them. All parents sort of kept a stock of things, because we never knew where they would be when hunger struck. It all worked out in the end.

    The girls would be in and out in under a couple of minutes, rambling about what they did, and where they were going. My MIL would ask if I actually understood what they said. My answer drove her nuts, ” I didn’t hear guns, booze, drugs or sex, so they are good to go.”.

    MIL would reply, “If you aren’t listening closely, how do you know they are behaving?”

    “Oh, maybe because I know and trust my girls. You should try it someday.”

  21. Melissa April 13, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

    Warren, that’s great! I know I drive my MIL crazy as well. If she knew that my 5yo was allowed to ride his bike around the block by himself, she’d lose her mind. I really don’t think that she even believes me when I say that my sister and I (at 8 and 10) would leave on our bikes and not come back all day, including train bridges, country roads, and the canal ferry all on our own.

  22. peter April 14, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

    I am a strong believer in free range parenting. I also believe that parents should generally be allowed to raise their children however they want without interference from the state or other do-gooders. But I am also very familiar with Park Slope and I would not let a six year old cross any street in Park Slope by themselves, regardless of how many friendly people are standing around watching. I agree that a majority of peoples’ fears regarding the safety of children are unfounded, but children being hit by cars is actually on the rise in New York City (at least as of 2014, over 150 people struck and killed) with three teens being killed in different sections of Park Slope in 2014. In 2013, over 16,000 pedestrians or cyclists were hit by cars and injured. http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/01/31/nypd-16059-pedestrians-and-cyclists-injured-178-killed-in-traffic-in-2013/ This is not the 3 children out of 20 million abducted by a stranger statistic, this is a very real danger. Getting hit by a car is one of the leading causes of death for children aged 5-9. A six-year old, no matter how attentive or mature, is still very small and hard to see among parked cars, kiosks, garbage cans, and mailboxes, and whether the next car down the street is being driven irresponsibly is still a pretty big crapshoot. There are also perceptual skills that don’t fully develop until a child is older. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/03/16/0956797611400917.abstract I commend this woman for raising a free range child in the city, and in many ways the city is a great place for children to learn not to be afraid of strangers, to explore different cultures and to engage with others. If the store was around the corner but on the same side of the street, I would say “more power to you.” But I think crossing the street alone at age 6 is still too risky.

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