It’s time for your child to take public transport alone. Here’s how to prepare

I don’t remember how old my son was the first time he went to school alone. What matters is this: he was ready and he succeeded.

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I wasn’t wearing a trench coat or a hat, but maybe I should have. I sneaked around corners and hid behind strangers.

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The first time my child went to school alone, I stayed over a block away on the short walk to Snowdon metro. Checkpoint. I almost lost sight of him on the deep escalators where giant bulbs on iron chandeliers cast a diffuse, ugly light. By the time I reached the platform he was already there, standing well behind the yellow safety line. Checkpoint.

When the train arrived, I rushed to another car, where I could just see her blonde head through the morning crowd. I held my breath as we arrived at the transfer station, let him slowly escape as he got off the train. Checkpoint. Gaining confidence, but not too much, I followed a car behind on the next train and watched until we arrived at Peel station. There are so many exits there, each leading to a different part of the spooky big downtown. Hidden by the swarm of commuters, I followed him to the right exit. Checkpoint.

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And my child hadn’t lost his backpack. Surprising. He crossed the street – at the green light – and entered the schoolyard as if he had done it alone all his life. Higher level.

I don’t remember my son’s age. Somewhere around 11 years old. Age matters less than that: he was ready and he succeeded.

Here are some tips to prepare you and your child to use public transport alone for the first time.

Lay the foundation. If your kids have mostly been driven to school, start training weeks before they leave on their own. After a few back and forths let them take the lead so you can really see if they have it. Don’t correct them before they make a mistake – they must learn to find their way back if they get lost. Repetition is one of the best ways to learn, so keep doing it.

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Know the map. Orienteering isn’t just for summer camps. You and your child should be comfortable locating home and school and knowing where they are.

Have a buddy system. Talk to parent friends to find out who else is learning to use public transport so kids can travel together. Maybe your child has a friend who has traveled alone before.

Have a backup plan. Things will go wrong. The bus won’t come, it won’t stop at the right place, they will get distracted and miss their stop. Who can they talk to? If they don’t have a mobile phone, they can talk to a bus driver or the ticket clerk at any station. If that is not an option, they can look for a mother with her children – mothers will always help a child who is lost. Your child should have your contact details written down in an accessible place in case they don’t have or lose their phone. Even if they have memorized the number, they might forget it in the moment.

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Dino J. Dotson