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Latching On To Independence: Signs That Your Child Is Ready To Be Left Home Alone:

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

It may seem ironic, but most kids who were made “responsible” for their own actions, actually got into less “trouble” than their overprotected (and over-babied) peers. Although the term latchkey kid bears the burden of an un-necessarily negative connotation, and images of parents who selfishly subject their children to the horrors of being left home alone, experts conclude that “absentee parenthood” actually contributes to their (emotional) maturity, and can be quite beneficial in teaching them some valuable lessons in competency.

In today’s society, it is almost essential for both parents to work and contribute to family finances and a lifestyle perhaps both partners were accustomed to prior to settling down and starting a family. In fact, many experts note that it’s always been important for the stay-at-home partner to maintain outside interests, hobbies, and friendships that will help maintain self-esteem and mental happiness and stability….and sometimes that means time away from spouse and kids.

Besides burdening mom and dad, your nearest neighbor, or incurring additional expenditures (which you may not have), what do you do with junior/juniorette when it’s not possible for mom or dad to be home. Well, experts offer the option of leaving them home alone. The only concern should be “boredom” (which can result in less than constructive friends and activities), so they urge parents to address the issue before it becomes even a potential problem.

On Your Mark, Get Set……Go: Staying home alone is a HUGE ordeal for both parents and kids, so, it’s imperative that you are absolutely certain and confidant that your child is mature, trustworthy and responsible enough to handle such a privilege. But it’s YOUR job to make it understood as a privilege and to give them the necessary tools to handle it.

According to professionals, children of about 7 or 8 should be able to handle staying at home alone (unsupervised) for approximately 30 minutes. By the time a child reaches the age of 10, he or she should be expected to handle being home (alone) for a few hours, though experts advise against leaving them alone on a daily basis (if possible).

Increasing your child’s “alone” time to include evening hours should require additional maturity, the ability to comprehend the importance of NOT answering the door and maybe even the phone, if you don’t have caller ID, going outside (alone), and should be based on his or her ability to earn this additional “privilege” by contributing to house chores, taking initiative to pitch in, and/or maintaining good grades.

Too Much, Too Soon: Most of us are probably familiar with the popular precept, that age is not necessary how old you ARE, but how old you Feel. Well, according to experts, age also takes into account how old one ACTS. They note that regardless of age, some “children” may not be “old” enough to be trusted home alone. Offspring with a history of inappropriate behavior, including harmful antics (such as playing with matches), destructive tendencies, those prone to lying, stealing, disobedience, and/or simple getting into or finding trouble should NOT be left unsupervised. Such youngsters are likely not only to make poor decisions for themselves (and perhaps their siblings) but also drag their friends into “danger”. They may go out carousing, throw a party, or other questionable behaviors and should be monitored constantly until they can prove that they can be trusted.

Experts also caution against leaving younger children under the supervision of their older siblings. Often times the older child may be perfectly capable and responsible enough to take care of himself or herself, but remain somewhat unprepared to look after and care for a younger brother or sister, especially with regards to knowing how to handle and address difficult or serious situations.

Training and Skills: As one very famous professional frequently points out, that as parents, you are NOT raising children, you are raising adults. Preparing your child for adulthood means outlining and providing him/her with age appropriate tasks and responsibilities that will allow them to mature mentally and deal with “grown-up” situations and issues. Feeling comfortable with this added independence means giving them all the necessary tools to fulfill their avocation. Experts suggest, spelling out the Dos and Don’ts of staying home alone, and leaving NOTHING to the imagination or chance.

Be specific about limitations and boundaries and make a list off all things that are expected. Professionals also recommend making a handbook that you both can refer to and review. Consider acting out and role- playing certain situations and scenarios as well as appropriate (and inappropriate) responses. Make sure you are always easily and readily available and accessible and that they know how and where to reach you, and/or you to call in your place in case of emergency. Also remember to post (in easy view) all important phone number (and addresses) such as police, fire department, hospital, etc.

Busy Bodies: Making sure your child has something creative and constructive to focus on is imperative. According to experts, boredom often leads to inappropriate activity. They note that while your teen may moan and groan about assigned tasks, he/she is actually grateful for the confidence and the ability to act like an adult. Encouraging “mature” behavior is a mental enhancement (for your teen) plus, it’s a big help to keeping their attention focused and them out of trouble.

Basic Instinct: While it’s not uncommon for many parents to “deny” or “overlook” their child’s “flaw” and/or “indiscretions”, most also KNOW what and just how severe they are. Experts emphasize listening to your gut feelings. While experts agree that frequently parents may have a tendency to be overbearingly overprotective, often it’s because they have good reason to be. If you don’t feel comfortable about leaving your child home alone, don’t (it’s probably your instinct speaking), continue the monitoring and the training, and you’ll both be better prepared when the right time arrives.

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