10 Times When It's Perfectly Safe (And Beneficial) To Leave Your Kid Unattended

I remember riding my bike over to the playground, two blocks from our apartment building, when I was nine years old. This was the '80s, so there were no cell phones and no GPS. This was also New York City, before it got cleaned up to focus on appealing to the top one percent. My daughter will be turning nine in a few months, and thanks to my upbringing I definitely think there are times when it’s perfectly safe to leave my kid unattended. It can be beneficial, too, as not having me around every moment of every day is a great way for my children to start figuring some essential life stuff out, building on what I hope is a solid foundation of what we’ve taught them about the world already.

Still, with so much negative media attention on parents who let their children go out alone and past what some others might consider "safe boundaries," it’s hard to determine what the rules are for leaving kids unattended. For me, it comes down to my own experience as a kid, and knowing my children’s capabilities. Pretty soon, I’m going to bite the bullet and let my daughter go off to that playground near our house, without me. I have to, because she is showing me that she knows what to look out for, what to avoid, and that she’s got all the important phone numbers memorized. If I shelter her for too long, she might rebel and put herself in dangerous situations she hasn’t been prepared for (or couldn't possibly be prepared for).

It’s scary, but letting my kids stretch out to grasp at the further reaches of the universe is part of my job as their parent. Of course, everyone is different and this is definitely one of those "you do you" moments (because no one knows your comfort level, or your children, like you do). However, for me, these instances were completely appropriate moments when I could give my kids some freedom:

When Your Kid Is Four Weeks Old And You Need A Shower

With my first, I was terrified of leaving her alone for a single moment, even if it meant simply fetching my coffee from another room. In hindsight, I may have been suffering from some postpartum anxiety that went undiagnosed, but for whatever reason I could barely stand to be out of her sight for the shortest amount of time when I was home alone with her.

By the time I had my second baby, the experience paid off. Putting my newborn son down on his playmat to wiggle around, while I took 10 minutes for a shower (a luxury, once you have kids) was completely reasonable. He was occupied and in no danger, since he couldn’t even roll over yet (though that changed by week five), and this was teaching him that mom could leave him for a little bit, but would always return. This paid off big time when he started at daycare at 11 weeks. He had no separation anxiety, and which was a huge relief to this working mom.

When Your Kid's A Wailing Toddler And Won’t Go Down For A Nap

It’s been 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and she’s still pitching a fit in her crib, railing against the nap I know she so desperately needs. I feel trapped in my apartment, unable to soothe her in my arms (because then she'll only want to fall asleep that way), and unable to flee from her relentless screaming. I did eventually give up on forcing my daughter to nap, especially once her little brother was born and there wasn’t enough of me to go around on days when I was home with both of them. However, that wasn’t until she was close to three years old. At 18 months, she needed to nap. The pleading, the whining, the crying were so awful to hear, like someone begging you to stop breaking their heart while you stand outside their door, sobbing along. A mom friend summed up this feeling perfectly, I think, saying, “Sometimes it sucks to do what’s best for my kid.” Sleep was best, for both of us, but we had to cry it out at nap time to get there.

So in those moments, listening to my child so upset, I had to leave. It wasn’t enough to step out of the room, or across the apartment, or even just to put headphones on in the next room. I had to go. I would step out of our apartment and pace the hall outside our door. From there, I couldn’t hear her scream, and she couldn’t hear the apartment floorboards creak, knowing I might come in to "rescue" her at any moment. Maybe it was for two minutes, or possibly even five minutes, but never longer. I'd excuse myself just long enough to reset my stamina to go back in there and wait for her to close her eyes. It was not a perfect solution, but it got us — me, really — through some tough afternoons.

When Your Kid Is Three And Needs To Use The Bathroom

My son still needed help with the toilet at this age, but he would hold me hostage in there, asking to be read yet another book while he did his business. I really don’t think it should take more than three board books to get the job done, so if he still wanted to hang out in the bathroom (and was definitely not having any stomach issues), I’d leave, letting him know I’d be back when he was done and to call me. This helped him to realize he shouldn’t be in there forever. It’s rather boring sitting on the toilet without someone entertaining you. Of course, now, at age six, he just brings in a pile of reading material and entertains himself, which makes me so grateful about having more than one toilet in our apartment now.

When Your Kid Is Five And Wants To Buy Apples

There is a fruit and vegetable stand next door to our favorite neighborhood pizza place. One day I had mentioned that we needed to pick up some items there after lunch. It dawned on me that the kids were probably capable of picking out a few things and, with money I gave them, paying for them and returning me the change. At the time, my daughter was seven, and knew the value of money. She could figure out the correct change. However, this was an opportunity for my son to get up to speed on how financial transactions work (and why we just can’t buy all the things, all the time, because we don’t have all the money). Having them go on this adventure without me excited them; Suddenly, they felt so grown up. I pressed a five-dollar bill into my son's hand and told him that he and his sister could each pick out two apples (I didn’t trust them to evaluate heads of lettuce), pay for them, and come back to me while I waited in the pizza place, enjoying their leftover crusts in peace.

Now they ask me to run errands like that more often, and we’ve expanded the grocery list. My son still occasionally forgets to wait for his change, but along with his sister, he is learning the ropes and I can’t wait to send them on more challenging chore-adventures. This is one part of the whole “they grow up so fast” lament that I can totally get with.

When Your Kid Is Six And Wants To Play In The Big Kid Playground, While You’re In The Toddler Area With Your Younger Kid

By age six, the rules of the park were indoctrinated into my daughter: she was never to talk to strange grown-ups, take food from others without asking me first, or go beyond the gates. This meant she could potentially go down the big slides, out of sight from me, who was with her preschool-aged brother in the little kid area. So, I had to take that big leap of faith and trust her. She would run to the slides, do them a few times, and report back. Then she’d be off again to explore without me. These short bursts of unsupervised play were good for both of us. My heart is still in my throat if I turn around and don’t see my kids right away, but the way they are learning to be independent, incrementally, is building their confidence, and my acceptance of them growing up.

When They Are Old Enough To Bathe Themselves

With my daughter, it was around age seven when I could trust her to get herself clean in the shower. (My son, at six, still needs some supervision as he forgets that the water needs to stay in the tub.) I would adjust the water temperature, have her tell me it felt OK, and then would leave her to it. I still occasionally pop my head in: “Did you wash your feet? Did you use conditioner? Don’t forget to hang up the washcloth," but teaching her that she is entitled to privacy in the bathroom hopefully means she will soon stop barging in on me when I’m in there.

When Your Kid Is Seven And You Need To Run To The Basement For 10 Minutes

When my daughter was about to turn eight, I felt I could trust her alone in the apartment, on the sixth floor, for a few minutes while I threw laundry in downstairs. I knew my kid, and I knew that laundry would be done faster if I didn’t have to have her and her little brother accompany me. Next step: sending her down herself to swap out loads.

When They Are Strong Enough Swimmers To Be In The Pool Themselves

This summer was game-changing when it came to how I could enjoy our pool time on vacation. At ages six and eight, my children, who love the water, demonstrated that their swimming skills were superior enough that I could trust them in the water without me. They knew how to swim last summer, and I did trust my older one to be able to swim laps without me beside her. Still, she was still small and did get tired, and I was a bit nervous about her being in the deep end solo.

This summer, with much practice at camp, the kids knew to float on their back if they got tired, and how to dive safely without belly-flopping. I could hang back on the deck and actual read while they were in the water. Of course, I’d look up after every paragraph to make sure they were OK, but still. I witness a lot of parents who look away from their kids in the pool, trusting that the lifeguard is watching. Having worked as a lifeguard at the very pool we visit a couple of times a summer, I hate that. Lifeguards are trained first responders, there to prevent accidents and save people if need be. They are not babysitters.

Everyone has their own comfort level with the water, and as of this summer, I am comfortable with my kids being in pools and shallow lakes without me, but with me keeping an eye on them. The ocean is different story, for me, though. I still keep them close when there are waves involved.

When Your Kid Is Eight And Needs To Deliver Girl Scout Cookies

This is something I allowed my Brownie to do, in the confines of our apartment building. True, I escorted her to the floors where she needed to make her deliveries, but I retreated behind the elevator bank, out of sight while she dropped off the goods to her happy customers. No money was exchanged at this point (that happened when we took the orders, months before), but she was getting the experience of following through on a promise, presenting herself as a responsible and polite young person to our neighbors, and really, how much could go wrong when there are Thin Mints involved?

When They Can Cross The Street Themselves

I decided that this past summer was “The Summer Of Independence.” My daughter was dying to walk herself to camp which, at age eight, she is not yet allowed to do. So we worked on building her street-crossing skills. Of course, she knows to look both ways before crossing (always with the light), so it was I who really had to learn to let her do this. I’d let her get about a half of a block ahead of me, so she wasn’t totally out of sight in the beginning. By the end of the summer, she’d race ahead and I’d just catch up to her at our final destination. Right now, we’re sticking to the less busy side streets and one avenue near our building, but over this coming year, we’ll have her practice at the busier intersections and I will be dying every time she steps off the curb. But, that’s how it’s done, I guess.