Parents who allow their children independent mobility are giving them confidence to navigate the world and their environment on their own.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions of everyday life including school, playground and park closures that have also limited where children can play, be active and be in nature.
Children’s Independent Mobility
Apart from providing children with many opportunities to experience their environment, independent mobility also provides a variety of mental health and developmental benefits including improved risk assessment, higher self-confidence and better way-finding skills.
The opportunity to travel alone or with friends allows children to develop better decision-making skills. They gain the competence to navigate their environment safely and react appropriately to unexpected occurrences like getting lost.
Different amounts of space, mobility
Not all children have access to a back yard at home and may be limited in their opportunities to be active. Independently mobile children have more chances to be active by walking or biking (or rollerblading, skateboarding or scootering) to various locations close to home like the local park, schoolyard or up and down the neighbourhood block.
The research as reported by the IOL highlights that not all children have the same amount of independent mobility. For example, car ownership was found to be having negative influences on children’s independent mobility.
Another research has noted that independent mobility is sometimes higher in lower socio-economic neighbourhoods due to differences in social norms and parenting styles.
Building children’s independent mobility
Following are six steps you can take to help your children build their independent mobility:
- Learn the Covid-19 restrictions in your area. Have conversations with your child about how to safely be outside while still following social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
- Engage with your children and your community to discuss and address barriers to children’s mobility. Learn about and support advocacy and planning for more inclusive communities that equitably support all children’s freedom of movement and play.
- Start early. The more time your child spends in the neighbourhood with you, the more familiar they will be with the streets, neighbours and the environment. As you are out and about, talk to your child about what they’d do if they got lost and how to ask for help or find their way.
- Know your child. Each child is different in terms of maturity, confidence and where they live. Engage in conversations to determine when your child is ready to explore the neighbourhood without parental escort.
- Build familiarity with your neighbourhood. It’s beneficial to know your neighbours, what locations are nearby such as green spaces, playgrounds or shops and who your child can ask for help should they need it.
- Trial runs. Once you and your child have established their readiness, it’s time for trial runs. Start with baby steps. Walk or cycle with your child, it helps everyone become familiar with the neighbourhood and landmarks.
When children are outside, “they move more, sit less and play longer”, interact with the environment and apply their creativity. All of this is beneficial for their physical fitness, mental health and social development. Supporting children to be independently mobile may be an important solution in protecting their health and well-being.