Your childcare provider just called, telling you that her children are sick.
While you normally use your mother-in-law as a back-up, she’s visiting family out of town. Missing work isn’t an option unless you want to lose your job; your boss has already written you up for excessive absences, mostly for scenarios just like this one—childcare emergencies. Your kids are 11 and 13, and you work just 10 minutes up the road. What should you do? Are they ready to be left alone?
First, consider that federal regulations recommend that children be at least 12 before they are left without adult supervision. Your state might have specific guidelines as well. If your child does meet the age criteria, the following overview can help you determine when it’s safe to leave your children unsupervised.
Tips to Give You Peace of Mind
- Your adolescent can follow emergency procedures should a problem arise.
- He or she shows a level of responsibility, such as cooperation with chores.
- Consider your locale, such as near-by neighbors that you trust, the safety of your community, if you live in a busy or isolated area and the accessibility of emergency personnel.
- Keep in touch with your child while you’re away. Take advantage of technology, such as smart phones and even Google Chromecast.
How Parents Can Prepare Their Children for Staying Home Alone
- Do several trial runs of one hour, and then three or four hours, with your child before leaving them home alone all day.
- If your child flunks the trial run, explain exactly what he or she did wrong and give the child specific ways to improve. Give your child another opportunity to earn time alone at home. Try again in another week or so.
- Give him or her ideas of how to improve. Practice role playing of how to handle certain situations when you are there.
- Remind him or her that as they keep showing increasing responsibility, you will increase his or her freedom.
- Demonstrate responsibility to your children, such as modeling a positive attitude in every situation.
- Set clear expectations in writing, such as if he or she can leave the house, what chores need to be done, internet and television rules, and if friends can come over while you are gone. Include consequences for violations.
- Keep expectations reasonable. In other words, don’t assign your child a long list of chores.
- Teach your child basic first aid. You can even enroll your young person in a first aid course or CPR class through the American Red Cross or similar agencies.
- Emphasize the importance of safety in the home and when it comes to strangers.
- Build in some flexibility in the schedule.
- Determine a back-up plan. If leaving your child home alone doesn’t work out, look for other options.