I was interviewed for an article that ran in the Globe and Mail on Saturday March 11, 2006 (available online but may require subscription). The interviewer asks the top March Break question: How old do your children have to be in order for you to leave them home alone? If you are a working parent, this is a critical question.
I think the topic is important enough that I wanted a fully discussion.
The child’s age is not as important as the child’s ability to be home alone. There are some savvy 8 year olds that get their kid brothers up, out of bed, fed, dressed and take them by bus to school. I have meet some 14 year olds that I wouldn’t trust to be alone for a moment. Age is not the determining factor. You can’t train them in a day to be home alone (although I do recommend you check out the courses offered called “Home Alone”) It is not a one shot lesson, it is the culmination or the end product of years of training, all the little baby steps leading to more and more ability and independence that is our parenting journey!
Think of what is required:
The child needs to have confidence in themselves when they are left alone. They need to believe “I can manage this!”
Developing confidence started the first time you let them cry themselves to sleep, and you had faith they could manage that situation. Confidence you helped them to grow in themselves because you “took time for training” and then “you never did what a child could do for himself” (two big Adlerian concepts).
Being home alone means potentially having to deal with a crisis on your own. If, say, a flood were to happen, can your child think calmly and cooly? I don’t mean they have to know how to fix a broken water line to be able to stay home alone (or else I wouldn’t be able to either!) but are they solid thinkers? Are they wise enough to see that the situation needs immediate attention and that they should call you. If they are told you are in a meeting do they have the smarts to ask for your meeting to be interrupted, to explain that it is an emergency, rather than leaving a message.
Problem solving training happens when you have family meetings as part of your family life, and when you look at all situations from a problem solving state of mind instead of through a disciplinary frame.
Respect the Rules
I espouse the use of democratic methods of guiding the child. One of the benefits of this style will payoff when you leave your child home alone. You see the child raised in a democratic home is able to “behave” or respect the rules even when you, the authority figure is away. Children raised in autocratic households tend to only behave when the ruler is around ruling the roost. When mom and dad are gone, its anyone’s guess what rules, limits and boundaries they will voluntarily respect.
Children raised using Adlerian parenting principles will be more mature and capable of handling life. That can be a bit scary when you hit the teen years. But – these are real community leaders and if we continue to build our relationships and stay close to our children, even when they want to dye their hair purple, we’ll enjoy the incredible humans they are becoming.
If you have any “home alone” stories or advice, please post them in the comment area below for others who may benefit from your parenting wisdom.