Preparing children for self-care
Now that school has let out for the summer, parents and children need to make plans and help develop "home alone" skills. The Home Alone movies portrayed a young boy’s adventures and misadventures while he was home alone. There are many situations when parents leave their children home alone in a self-care situation.
Working parents may leave their school-age children home alone before and after school because of a lack of supervisory programs or childcare facilities. Research shows children also may be left home alone when parents are coping with an emergency situation or doing routine errands. These home
alone and on your- own situations do not have to be misadventures for the school-age child.
Preparing your child for self-care will require careful planning and practice. Unfortunately, no magic age exists when children develop the maturity and good sense they need to stay alone. Many children prove their ability to care for themselves between the ages of 10 and 12 years. Other children may need more time to prepare. Parents and children need to work together to form a specific plan of action for the child when home alone.
A plan should consist of the following:
- An evaluation of the child’s readiness for self-care
- A discussion of fears and concerns of both parent and child
- A clear set of house rules and responsibilities
- Preparation of all family members for handling emergencies.
How can you tell if your child is ready? First your child should indicate a desire and willingness to stay alone. Children who are easily frightened or who do not want to stay alone are probably not ready for this responsibility. In addition, children should accept responsibility, be aware of the needs of others, and be able to consider alternatives and make decisions on their own.
These are some of the skills children will need to care for themselves.
Do your children:
- Get ready for school on time?
- Solve problems on their own?
- Complete homework and household chores with a minimum of supervision?
- Remember to tell you where they are going and when they will be back?
You and your child may decide to start with short periods of time, such as 30 minutes to an hour, while you run an errand. Next, build up to staying home alone after school for a few hours, and eventually staying home alone for longer periods of time. Your child should be able to talk easily with you about interests and concerns. Good parent-child communication ensures that any fears or problems that arise because of staying alone can be discussed and dealt with quickly.
Several other factors must also enter into your decision:
- What is your neighborhood like?
- Are there other adults available nearby?
- How long will your child be alone?
If your neighborhood is unsafe, or if there are no adults nearby to call in case of an emergency, or if your child must remain alone for a very long time, it is best to continue to use some other form of child care, even if your child seems ready to stay alone.
When children are prepared for the self-care situation, they are at less risk of a misadventure. The better prepared for being home alone and the more successful experiences of being home alone, the better children will feel about themselves.
If you would like more information on this topic, At Home Alone (MP 636) is a home study guide that families may use to prepare their children for self care. This publication is available at your local University of Missouri ExtensionCenter for a small fee. Or you may order online (http://muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/miscpubs/mp0636.htm).
Teresa L. Mareschal, MAT
Human Development Specialist