The Self-Care Child
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Self-care children are those who regularly care for themselves before or after school. For these children, Home Alone is not just a movie, it is a reality. Some children in self-care relish the independence while others may be fearful, lonely, or bored staying home alone and may comfort themselves by watching television or going on the computer.
By the time a child reaches 12 or 13, he can usually be relied on to be responsible without adult supervision. In deciding whether a younger child is responsible enough to care for himself at home, consider the following factors:
- his comfort level while home alone
- his ability to solve problems
- the length of time he is to be home alone
- your accessibility by phone
- his ability to use the telephone
- the availability of a nearby adult in case of emergency
If you are unsure whether your child is ready, consider a dry run: have him stay alone for a short period while you do an errand. If you decide to have your child care for himself, consider the following strategies:
- Set out clear rules for your child to follow. Safety concerns should be paramount. The rules might include coming home right after school, locking the door, not allowing strangers into the house, not using the stove and sharp knives, and not informing callers that you are home alone. Post these rules in a prominent place and review them on occasion with your child.
- Make sure your child can use the telephone. If he needs help, unplug the phone and have him practice. Post key numbers in a prominent place.
- Make sure your child’s school affairs are in order the night before. If your child gets himself off to school, you may not have a chance in the morning to help organize him.
- Set an alarm to go off when your child is to leave for school. Children in self-care are not always reliable about leaving on time and risk missing their bus.
- Have your child keep the house key hidden from view. Wearing a key around their neck invites trouble by advertising their home alone status. Also, parents should hide a key outside the house or give one to a neighbor in case their child loses his key.
- Have your child call you when he gets home. Leave instructions for your co-workers to track you down if your child calls.
- Make occasional after-school arrangements. Arrange for your child to go over a friend’s house or participate in a community activity one or two afternoons a week to break up the monotony of self-care.
- Be home when your child expects you. Your child will likely worry if you are late. If delayed, call your child to reassure him.