Staying safe out and about
Advice for parents on keeping children safe when out alone
As parents, it can be very confusing to know what to expect from children, when to protect them or when to hold back and encourage greater independence. To help, we have put together advice and practical tips on preparing your children for being out on their own.
Children need challenges, responsibilities, adventures and independence, but they also need adults to support, encourage and step in when needed.
We don't want our children to feel like the world is a dangerous and scary place, but we do want them to be safe and understand how to take care of themselves.
To keep children safe, it's important to recognise that children develop at different rates and will vary over when they are confident to do things. Find out about:
- the risks children face when out and about
- teaching children ways they can keep safe
- where to find more advice and information
- other parents' experiences.
For more advice and practical tips on how to prepare your children for being out on their own, download our 'Out alone' guide for parents.
Here are some of the situations your children may find themselves in when they are out on their own.
Children under the age of about eight have difficulty judging the speed of vehicles and distances. Older children can underestimate risk when crossing the road, or be distracted by friends, phones, or music.
Take this into account when setting boundaries for their play areas and activities.
Breaking the law or entering dangerous areas
Children who play unsupervised or older children out and about with their friends may be tempted or encouraged by others to trespass onto grounds, sites or buildings which are not safe.
Getting lost in crowded places
Managing younger children in crowds can be difficult. A child who becomes separated may find the experience very distressing. Older children will want to go off alone but need to know how to get in touch if they need you.
Differences and power imbalances in children’s relationships can sometimes lead to bullying, read more on our bullying advice page.
Behaviour that upsets other people
Children at play can be loud and boisterous. This can annoy people in your local community and lead to confrontations that can be both upsetting for the children and neighborhood relationships. Good relationships with neighbours could help you supervise your children at play from a distance.
Don't leave children under the age of eight to play out of sight or near busy roads
As well concerns about traffic, young children may have falls and get hurt.
If possible, find them a garden or safe area where you can see them. If this is not possible, share supervision of the children with neighbours and friends.
Talk seriously to older children about road safety and 'no go' areas
Let your older children know that you trust them to take care of themselves and what your expectations are.
Explain to them that trespassing (for example, on wasteland or on building sites) is against the law and can be very dangerous.
Prepare children for when you are in crowded places
Some ideas from other parents that might work with children of different ages include:
"Teaching them their name, address and telephone number. We practiced at bath time until we were sure they knew them."
"Reins worked when they were smaller. Now we hold hands. I guess when that gets embarrassing they will be old enough to cope with crowds."
"We agree a place to meet if we get separated. When we go somewhere new I get them to choose where they can go to wait for me if they get lost. Somewhere easy for all of us to find, like the café or information desk."
"We all make sure we have our mobile phones switched on and charged so we can call each other if there is a problem or we want to meet up."
Talk about bullying
When children are out, other children may intimidate, upset, or hurt them and they need to know how to get help. Talk to your children about bullying and what they should do if they think they are being bullied.
You could suggest they inform an adult nearby (if possible choosing someone who is with a child), come home as quickly and safely as possible or go to a friend or neighbour's house if you are out.
Explain to your child how to cope with unwanted attention
Talk to your children about unwanted attention from adults and that they should:
- not talk to adults they don't know
- not go off with an adult - even if they know them - without telling you first
- talk to someone in authority such as a park keeper, shop manager or police officer if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, worried or scared [if there is no one in authority speak to an adult, with a child if possible]
- come home as quickly and safely as possible or, if you are out, go to a friend or neighbour's house whenever they do feel uncomfortable, worried or scared.
Discuss what to do in an emergency
Teach your child what to do in emergencies, including:
- how and when to call the police, fire brigade or ambulance
- practice making emergency calls so they know what to do
- how to contact you or a friend, relative or neighbour if you are not available and where those contact details are kept.
For more advice on helping your children stay safe when they are out alone, download our free booklet Out alone: Your guide to keeping your child safe.
You can also find more information on our Help and advice section or through:
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) website
- Anti-Bullying Alliance website
- THINK! road safety website
Children can also visit the ChildLine website for advice on personal safety and bullying.
Marie decided that her son, Ciaran, aged nine, was old enough to play football with his friends in the local park.
She watched him to check he used the pedestrian crossing over the main road but then left him for an hour’s kick-a-round. When she came back to bring him home he was not there. She was really worried.
Marie called round the mothers of his friends until she located Ciaran, perfectly safe and happy, playing computer games at another boy’s home. She was very angry with him but he was confused as he considered himself to be quite safe.
Looking for advice, Marie read our 'Out alone guide'.
Next time Ciaran asked to go to the park to play with friends, she took the following steps to make sure he would stay safe:
1. Checked who was going with him
2. Asked him to ring and tell her if they decided to move to a friend’s house so she knew exactly where he was
3. Agreed with the mums of his friends that they would let each other know if someone else’s child turned up at their house
4. Set a time for him to return home.
Download our Out alone: Your guide to keeping your child safe
Our 'Out alone' guide provides advice and practical tips to parents on how to prepare children for being out on their own. Help your children stay safe whether they are walking to and from school, attending sports or holiday clubs, or getting involved in other community activities.
Free guides for parents
Download our free leaflets containing advice and guidance for parents on a range of child safety issues.
Are you a child?
Do you need to talk? Call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or visit us online.
Worried about a child?
Don’t wait until you’re certain. Contact our trained helpline counsellors for 24/7 help, advice and support.