Ben will turn ten at the end of this month and for the last year we have been taking small steps towards independence for him – aware that in little over a year’s time our boy will be heading off to high school and starting an adventure that we’re no longer really part of. We won’t drop him off each day, we won’t know his teachers or his friends the way we do now. To an extent he will be making his own way through this one with us by his side to help when he needs us – but it’s a big change and one we need to know we have done our best to prepare him for!
We started to discuss how we would build this independence shortly before he turned 9 both between Dave and I but also with Ben himself. Without really thinking about it, I was already letting him out of my sight for increasing periods of time in the supermarket or on a day out, making sure he knew exactly where I would be for him to find me again. Initially I started to ask him to go off and get me things in Tesco then bring them back to me – explaining to him that being able to trust him to go off on his own in the shop would build up to being able to let him to go the shop on his own or to be left at home by himself. Building blocks of trust if you like.
The logical next step seemed to be to let him go to the shop on his own – Tesco is too far and too big for this but we have a number of small corner shops nearby. Dave and I had planned out that we would let him walk to one of the closest shops based on the fact that there weren’t really any roads to cross but when we suggested it to Ben he said he didn’t actually want to so we left it there. Shortly after his 9th birthday we had run out of bread so Dave asked Ben if he wanted to go to the shop for it – and he agreed. So we sent him off with strict instructions of where to cross the road and what to buy and then held our breath (well I did, I don’t think Dave was quite so nervous!) All was well, he came home with the bread and a Curly Wurly as a reward and that was that.
He now often pops to the corner shop for us and relishes in it – he loves how grown up he feels being out on his own and doing something helpful – I was never more grateful for this new found independence than the day that both his sisters were poorly and Dave was working way – Ben went to the corner shop to fetch food for us both and laundry supplies so I could wash all the bedding!
Since the back end of last year, he has been walking home from school a couple of nights a week. For the most part there is little point in him walking home from school on his own as I have to go to the Juniors to collect Chloe anyway, however if she’s at choir or homework club it means I can collect Amy from the Infants and head straight home – then Ben comes in about twenty minutes later. Not long after we’d started to do this, his school introduced a new policy that only the Year 6 children should walk home on their own – but after a chat with his teacher, we agreed that it seemed silly to stop him when he’d already been doing it successfully for half a term and I just had to sign a form and record all of the things Ben and I had agreed – for example he has to walk the same route home each time so I know where to find him or, if he’s not home by a certain time I set out to meet him.
As yet I’ve not let him walk to school – again because I’ve got to take Chloe and Amy anyway but also because I wouldn’t know for sure that he was there! Walking home from school is different as he’s coming to me!
The next step on this path is being allowed to walk to his best friend’s house on his own – something we have said he can do when he turns ten. His best friend lives a bit further away and over a fairly busy road however there is a zebra crossing and he knows the route well. My thinking is that if he’s walking there, I know how long it should take him and Mich will text me when he’s got there! (I will still of course have my heart in my mouth the first couple of times he does it!)
So at the moment it’s all very much about a set destination that’s just five or ten minutes away – I’m not letting him go off to the park on his own or call for friends and then head off out together. I was chatting to a good friend about this the other week – her son is the same age as Ben and has just started to call for friends to go to the park – but we concluded that this was very different in her rural setting compared to our considerably more urban one. (Much as I love our local park, I’m not confident that it’s a safe place for my kids to be without me there to watch over them.)
Alongside letting Ben go to the corner shop or walk home from school on his own – we’ve also started to think about leaving him in the house on his own for short periods of time. Usually just while I walk back to school to pick Chloe up from choir or more recently I left him whilst I took Chlo and Amy to Chloe’s swimming lesson which was the longest he had been left. He knows exactly what to do if he needs someone. Again, we have strict rules around what he can and can’t do when we are out – and for the most part I don’t think he moves far from the Xbox!
Slowly but surely we are building his confidence (and mine!) and he is earning our trust. We’ve had a lot of conversations around trust and expectations – about how if he lets us down and the trust is broken it will all stop, but if he keeps meeting our expectations and we’re all comfortable with it, we can keep pushing things for him.
As we look to let him go further or leave him for longer, I’m aware of the fact he doesn’t yet have a mobile phone. This is probably something for another post really but we have no intention of getting him a phone before his 11th birthday however it would be good to be able to get in touch with him when he’s out. I have considered the possibility of a “house” mobile – one that doesn’t belong to him by any stretch of the imagination but one which he could use to contact us while we are out or that he could take with him. I know this is something other friends have done successfully. As it stands I think we’re going to get a new phone to plug into the landline to at least cover us whilst he is at home by himself.
It all feels so very grown up and I’m still not entirely sure I’m ready for it – but he is and that’s what matters! I’d love to know if you have any top tips for our next steps!