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My 6-Year-Old’s First Solo Outing (And All The Adults Who Stopped Him)

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Today’s post comes to us from Seth Fickett, a mechanical engineer in Lancaster, PA. Seth loves making music, playing Ultimate Frisbee, and spending time with his wife and kids,

Hey, Let Grow!

Partly inspired by the wonderful parenting I received growing up, and then encouraged to take more action by The Coddling of the American Mind [by Let Grow co-founder Jonathan Haidt], I’ve been setting some independence milestones for my 5-year-old son. I started having him practice crossing the street, and walking around our block, and buying little items at a store. The milestone would be going to the store two blocks away to buy milk and bring it home all on his own.

As expected, he was a little timid about each new thing, but he quickly got excited about the gained independence. And then, this afternoon, we needed milk! I asked him if he wanted to get it, and he said yes!

Off he went on his own! Or tried to…

As this was his first time, I let him choose if he wanted me to wait for him outside on the porch or inside the house. He chose “porch.” Before he left, I told him to remember he could tell anyone worried about him that this is a learning project, and that he knows his address and the way home. 

Well, it wasn’t a completely independent experience, because I could see him nearly the whole time. But it ended up giving me a wild perspective. Right at the first intersection, two different cars slowed down, seemingly concerned that this little guy was out on his own. Then a lady who was outside started talking with him, and actually tried to wave down a cop as it drove by. (Luckily the police didn’t hear her!)

Folks just can’t believe a child can be competent.

I could tell from where I was — later corroborated by my son — that this woman refused to let him go on his own, and insisted on walking him to and from the store. Then ANOTHER lady pulled up in a car and yelled to me, “Are you 717??” (Our house number). 


“You’ve got a little guy all the way up the street! He should not be crossing streets by himself!”

“Why’s that?”

“He is too young!”

She went into it, giving me her credentials as a mother of a full-grown woman. I started to get concerned about her blocking traffic.

Strangers who apparently care more about my child than I do.

“Honestly, I’d love to talk with you about it, but maybe you could just park first?”

To which she simply reiterated her concerns, and that the other lady was going to walk my son to and from the store. As she drove away, I said, “I appreciate your concern!”

I watched as my son came back with this stranger “helping” him. I braced myself for another lecture from someone I assumed was another concerned mom. But in the end she stopped about half a block out, when she could see I was waiting for him.

When my son got back I praised him for doing so well, even with someone making it a little harder. He started to tear up when he said, “I tried to tell her I’m six, and I’ve practiced crossing roads with my mom and dad, and my dad told me I could do this by myself, and I want to do this, so I am.”

I gave him some decaf chai (one of his favorites!). Then I said maybe he can do it next time without me being outside. He said maybe not the very next time. So I told him that’d be okay, but we should do it soon so we don’t lose momentum.

So it went great…except for all the people trying to help him!

— Seth

Seth Fickett Headshot

Seth Fickett

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  1. KKatherine Raz says:

    Love to hear practical stories like this where the rubber hits the road because this is often where trying to let kids be independent falls down for me. Other well meaning adults intervene and parent for me. Part of the reason I think it was easier for us to walk to the store in the 1980s was that the adults didn’t act shocked we were there.

  2. AAlison Byrne says:

    Along these lines, would you/do you leave your 6 yr-old home alone for short periods of time?
    I have a 6-yr-old who will just be getting up and eating breakfast at the time I have to drive/drop a high school student near school (just for coldest winter days) about 1.5 miles away. So I’ll be gone for about 10 mins most likely. Would you consider it OK to leave the 6 yr old at home, or would you take him in the car in his jammies? I live in NJ, for what it’s worth.

    Not putting responsibility in your hands, just curious how you would handle.

  3. LLon G says:

    I hope you can get your kid to go out again on his own. My kids are reluctant to run errands because having to rebuff helpful adults intimidates them more than the errand itself. Frustrating and sad.

  4. GGuy Collins says:

    And no telling all the fear mongering garbage the lady spewed at him their walk home.

  5. CCary says:

    At age five we all used to walk to kindergarten unaccompanied and unsurveilled, anywhere from a mile to a two-mile round trip, depending on where in the neighborhood each kid lived. Busy streets were crossed, and there were no crossing guards. Nobody thought anything of it. Congratulations on taking the steps you’ve taken in today’s busybody infested world. Any normal five- or six-year-old kid is perfectly capable of navigating suburban streets safely.