As summer looms closer, parents face a perennial question, “Who will care for the children while we are at work?”
Parents may debate whether children are ready to be home alone. Many factors come into play — finances, willingness of children to come under the authority of a sitter, and proximity to those who can help in a crisis to name a few. How can parents know whether staying home alone is a viable option — or a disaster in the making?
First, parents must discern whether children are ready to stay home alone. According to Lynn Yaney, writing for Parents Magazine as a child welfare expert, “Children under the age of 12 should never be left home alone. Children older than 12 should only be left alone only if they exhibit the maturity needed — which must be judged on an individual basis.”
Signs that adolescents are ready to face the day alone include a willingness to call a neighbor should they need help (and the availability of the neighbor), ability and knowledge on how to handle emergencies (Does she know what to do if she cuts her hand while cooking or the water heater busts?), and ability to self-motivate productive activities during the day. Additionally, the child must be able to talk freely with her parents about how she is feeling — will she share if she’s scared or overwhelmed? If parents decide the maturity is there, parents must then prepare their child for situations she might face.
Children should rehearse what to say to people who stop by or call and want to speak with their parent. Children should have clear directions on how to get into and out of the house without televising that they are routinely home alone. They need training in basic first aid and a list of numbers to call if problems arise — neighbor, doctor, poison control. Additionally, children should be guided on activities to pursue while home. A daily schedule of times to read, play video games, engage in chores, and pursue hobbies can help provide the structure a parent would provide if present. Misbehavior routinely spawns from boredom. Filling the child’s days with productive goals replaces boredom with focus and accomplishment.
See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.