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Encouraging Independence, Age by Age

Walk to a nearby friend's house

When kids are ready: 5 and up

Look for these signs: Your child can follow simple directions and has a decent sense of distance and time.

How to start: Phone the friend's parents and arrange a playdate, then tell your child exactly what to do ("Walk to Matt's house. Play for a while, then I'll get you"). Watch him from your steps or window until he arrives. Keep the playdate short, and make sure your child knows he can't leave or go to another house.

School-age kids are usually old enough to walk both ways. "When my twins were six, I let them visit a friend three doors down, but I had the mother call me when they arrived," says Kendra Isett, of Sparks, Maryland. Ask your children to alert you before they leave the house, to check in with you often while they're away, and to call before they head home so you can watch out for them.

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