My mom worked as a teacher when I was growing up. Even through she theoretically worked the same hours I was in school, I still arrived home from my school before she arrived home from her school. There was no after-care program back then -- after school care was a hodgepodge of neighborhood teenage girls and friends. Eventually I was deemed old enough to come home by myself.
Even though the time I was home alone was less than an hour, I loved the sense of responsibility and freedom. As a parent, however, I worry when Alfs occasionally has to arrive home alone. He's perfectly capable, of course, but I still worry. Must be a mom thing.
It's an often unnerving thought for working parents that eventually after school care programs end. Kids age out of it or circumstances change. Eventually a kid does have to learn about being home alone and safe. Even when one parent doesn't work outside the home, there are occasions when kids need to come home alone. They do have to learn this.
Set the foundation
I started preparing Alfs for being home alone long before he was really ready for it and long before I would have allowed it. It started with an occasional hypothetical discussion about what to do in certain situations. Grouped with other safety conversations, this set the foundation. Among other things, he memorized names and phone numbers and thought about emergency procedures.
Then I looked for and enrolled Alfs in a class sponsored by a local hospital about exactly this topic -- staying home alone safely. This class reiterated our safety discussions and offered some basic self-defense training. It was a four session class geared for kids his age, and the instructor was great. She really empowered the kids.
But even then, neither Alfs or I were quite ready.
Set the rules
At some point, I realized we were ready for Alfs to be home alone. But we started out slowly. I'd leave Alfs for 15 minutes or 1/2 an hour at a time to start, while I ran an errand, and slowly stretched out the time.
We established rules for the time he was home alone, and review them regularly. Among the rules we established are:
- No telling anyone you are home alone -- and therefore no friends over.
- No answering the phone to an unknown number. (Can I say how much I love caller ID?)
- No answering the doorbell.
- Lock the doors.
- Call Mom or Dad if you feel nervous at all. At all.
- No turning on the stove when you are alone.
- If you are really anxious, call us and/or call for backup.
These rules were established for the safety and comfort of both of us. Over time they may evolve, but until we're both more comfortable, they will stand.
Have a backup
We have a few numbers of friends Alfs can call for backup in case of emergency. In turn, I am backup for these friend's children on other days. If, for any reason, he can't reach me or his dad, he can call these people -- and he has.
Our neighbors have also helped in situations (like when I was delayed from an appointment thanks to snow), and I've helped them. Just knowing they are there helps Alfs -- and me -- a little more comfortable.
Staying home alone is a milestone for a kid. With a bit of preparation on all sides, it can be a safe and positive experience.