Many children take care of themselves after school, in the evening, on weekends, or during school vacations -- whenever a parent or other adult cannot be at home with them. Although self-care can be a rewarding and positive experience for children who are ready and prepared for it, if a child is not mature enough, self-care can produce anxiety and lead to a dangerous situation.
Questions to ask when determining if a child is ready for self-care include:
If you decide to leave your child alone at home:
- Is he physically ready to stay alone at home, (can he perform everyday tasks such as making a snack, dialing a phone, and taking a message)?
- Is he mentally ready to stay alone at home, (does he understand what "stranger" and "emergency mean)?
- Is he socially ready to stay alone at home, (feel confident enough to contact another adult if there is a problem)?
- Is he emotionally ready to stay alone at home, (feel confident and secure when alone)?
- Is your home and neighborhood safe to leave your child alone at home?
- Make sure he has essential information and skills such as, important names, telephone numbers, and addresses; knows how to answer the telephone and what to do if someone comes to the door; can use appliances approved for him to use; and knows how to enter and exit the house.
- Establish reasonable rules addressing who can visit, where he can and cannot go, and telephone and Internet use.
- Develop a daily schedule, e.g., what to do when he gets home – check in with you, eat a snack, play, do homework.
With proper preparation and good communication, your child is more likely to feel safe and secure and to benefit from the opportunity to care for himself.
Source: Ferrer, M. and Fugate, A.M. 2003. Children in Self-Care