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Should I let my child stay home alone?


Summer holidays are here, and for many that means finding alternative child care. But what if your older child is asking to stay home alone, while you go to work? How do you know that he/she is ready for the responsibility?

Firstly, in Saskatchewan, it's recommended that a child is 12 years old to be allowed to stay home alone. The law differs in different provinces, and some don't have a law at all, so check with yours if you are unsure.

But simply being 12 doesn’t mean that they are ready. Here are some good guidelines to use:

-          Does your child follow basic safety rules, and does she know where to go for help if she needs it?

-          How responsible is your child in general when it comes to completing chores and school work? They don’t have to love doing it, but do they do it, or have you seen clear improvement in these areas lately?

-          Are you prepared to set some clear rules and expectations? And are you ready to follow through on any consequences if the expectations aren’t met?

If you’re answer is yes to these questions, then you might be ready to give it a try. Here are some things to keep in mind:

-          Make your rules and expectations perfectly clear. What chores do you expect your child to do while you are away? What are your rules about having friends over, or your child leaving the house? By making the rules clear beforehand, you eliminate any confusion, and save yourself from possible problems.

-          Also make consequences clear. What will happen if the expectations aren’t met? Consequences should not come as a surprise to your child, but should be well explained ahead of time. This way you also save yourself from issuing an unreasonable consequence in the heat of the moment (I know, I know, this would never happen to you ;) ). 

-          Have a back up plan in case your child doesn’t follow the rules. Whether your child gets to spend the day with a grandparent, or other family member or friend, he should know that staying home alone is not the only option. That will make him more motivated to meet your expectations.

-          Don’t go overboard with the to-do list. Yes, your child should have some chores to do, that’s part of being responsible and a great way to teach your child time management and self-regulation skills. But there should also be some time for the fun and freedom, and making their own decisions, that they want from staying home alone. Also don’t make a time table for when the chores need to be done. Is there a chance that they will play for the whole time, and then rush to get the chores done 10 minutes before you come home? Yes. (And you probably did the same yourself). But that’s okay. It goes with that time management skill we talked about. 

-          Ease into it. Don’t start out by letting your child stay home alone all day every day all summer. If they fit the basic guidelines above, let them start with an hour or so while you head to the grocery store. Let them know that if they meet your expectations, you are willing to extend the time they get next time. If they are not quite ready for it, start by asking them to show an improvement in their regular responsibilities for a set time. If you see they make an effort they will get to do a shorter trial run. If they can’t step up, let them know that you won’t be giving them the responsibility of staying home alone until they are ready, and try again at a later date.

-          If your child fails to meet your expectations, reduce the amount of time given, and let them earn it back again. Don’t tell them they can never stay home alone again. You want them to strive for self sufficiency and the only way they can do that is by having the chance to practice. They need to see which areas they need to improve, and then have a chance to do it. If expectations are met, let them know that you are proud of them. Reward them with more responsibility next time.

Through this process, just remember that being responsible and self sufficient should be their goal, something they want to work towards. You can help them get there by giving them the opportunity to learn. Showing what is expected of them, and follow through on consequences if they don’t meet those expectations. 

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