Home Alone Part 3: Structure and Fun
One worry you may have about leaving your child home alone is wondering what they will do while you're gone! It's natural to wonder, and it is a good idea to have structure in place for your child as well as giving them ideas of what to do to keep themselves busy. Most children will find plenty to keep them occupied, but communicating clear expectations will help you both get the most out of their newfound freedom. Here are some tips to help you find a good balance between structure and fun.
Giving your child clear expectations for what they should and should not do while they are alone is key for their safety, security, and confidence as well as yours. If they are unsure what they can and cannot do, they may do things you do not want them to do or may not complete tasks you expect them to complete which will cause conflict and disappointment. It is important to take your child's maturity level, age, comfort, and experience into account when assigning tasks and setting limits.
Chores: Giving your child specific tasks to complete while you are away helps teach them responsibility and helps them gain confidence in their ability to complete things on their own. A child who is old enough to stay alone for longer than an hour or so should be old enough to do most household tasks including laundry, cleaning with household cleaning products, and even some minor repairs like painting. Give them enough tasks to fill some time, but not so many that they will have no down time. It is also important that you attach consequences for not completing assigned tasks such as removal of privileges. Many kids will wait until the last minute before you arrive to frantically finish all their tasks, but they are learning time management!
Homework: If your child will be coming home alone after school, a reasonable expectation for them will be to do their homework before they do anything else. Some days, this may mean that they are still working on it when you get home. Again, depending on the child, they may wait until closer to your arrival and bend the rules a bit. How you deal with those issues will vary based on your style of discipline.
Practice: Does your child have a hobby or skill they are learning? Practicing while no one else is around is a great way to spend their time. Practice piano or taekwondo. Work on a knitting or art project. Learn a new song on the guitar. Sing your heart out with a favorite band. If your child is taking lessons, expecting them to practice for at least a specified amount of time each day can offer some structure.
Parental Controls and Screen Expectations: Be sure to enable parental controls on any computers or tablets that you have in the house. In general, your child will likely know what they can and cannot view on television or the internet, and many kids will govern themselves; however, when they are home alone, they may be less likely to adhere to those rules.
Set Reasonable Limits on Screen Time: It is difficult to monitor and control screen time while you are not there, but giving kids clear expectations will help them learn to gauge and govern their own behavior. Offering some leeway on how much TV, gaming, or internet they can access while alone is a good idea. Although you do not want them sitting in front of a screen all day, they may have a limited amount of other things available to do, so limiting them to an hour or two throughout the course of an entire day or evening may be unreasonable depending on their access to other sources of entertainment such as friends or outdoor activity.
Food: It is important that your child have safe, healthy choices for meals and snacks that require little to no preparation. Unless they are trained and comfortable cooking on the stove or using the oven, it is best to stick with the toaster or microwave for heating items like toast or leftovers. Communicate clear instructions on what they should and should not eat, but understand that growing kids who are feeling more confident will likely test boundaries. Offering healthy options rather than dictating what they eat is a way to give them a sense of ownership over their choices.
And now for the fun part! What will your child do all day? There are lots of resources online that offer ideas about charts or other tools that may help keep your child on track. We have linked to several of those on our Pinterest page. But, be sure to remember that part of the fun of staying home alone is that there is not an adult there to program every moment of their time. Most kids will not have difficulty finding fun things to do while they are alone, but some may need a little guidance or some ideas. Especially if you do not allow your child to go outside, make sure they have plenty of things to occupy their time in the house. Between completing their chores/homework, reading, watching TV, FaceTiming a friend, dancing or singing to their favorite songs, and preparing and eating a meal or snack, they will stay pretty busy.
As your child gains confidence in staying home alone, you will gain confidence in their ability to do so responsibly. Enjoy this new milestone and help your child grow into a responsible adult!
For More Information:
Home Alone Pinterest Board: https://www.pinterest.com/UAEXFamilyLife/