Home Alone: Is Your ‘Built-In Babysitter’ Ready?

Home Alone: Is Your ‘Built-In Babysitter’ Ready?

- in 2014 Editions, June 2014, Magazine, Parenting
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Home Alone June 2014Assessing your child’s readiness to handle the household when Mom and Dad are away.

Preparation Is Key To A Successful Summer

Just about every parent at one time or another has had to make an honest assessment of their child’s maturity. And, at no time is that assessment more crucial than when children are home for summer break.

The convenience of having a “built-in” babysitter is tough to argue, however, is your child ready to stay home alone or be responsible for siblings?

Determining Readiness

State law doesn’t designate a specific age — that decision is entirely up to parents as long as the children are safe. ­Fortunately, plenty of organizations are available to help them decide.

“It’s not a question of age but of how your child reacts in an emergency,” says Heather Trnka, injury prevention coalition ­coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Competency in three general areas — physical, intellectual and emotional — can help a parent determine a child’s readiness to stay home alone or to care for siblings.

“Regarding physical readiness, the evaluation is straightforward,” Trnka says. “Can your child lock the doors, use the telephone or fix themselves food or a snack? Intellectually, can your child ­follow directions? How well will they react in an emergency?”

Trnka, who also is a paramedic, notes children need to know when to call and who to call if an emergency arises.

If a child said he doesn’t want to stay home alone, uncover the reason. Maybe he or she is afraid a stranger may come to the door, or that they won’t have enough to do.

“If they’re not ready, they’re not ready,” Trnka says.

Practice Helps

One of the most important things a parent can do is to talk about situations kids may encounter. What happens if the power goes off or if the weather turns severe? Who is the “back up” if a parent can’t be reached? Are other children ­allowed to visit?

Trnka advises parents to take short-term “practice” outings to prepare children for a longer homestay.

“Parents should encourage their children to be independent,” she says. “However, staying home alone or caring for a younger sibling is a big step. We never recommend that a pre-teen or teen care for an infant less than 6 months until he’s had about two years of babysitting experience. A mature 11- or 12-year-old generally can care for children ages 3 to 5.

Also, experience is crucial before caring for toddlers.

Trnka says staying home alone or being responsible for a younger sibling can be an important milestone for a child.

To help your child before he or she is alone, you might want to put a craft box together or make a plan for what types of activities will take place while you’re gone. This will hopefully help keep boredom at bay. Also, go over basic food preparation and talk about possible emergencies.

Learning How To Babysit

If possible, have your child attend a first aid or babysitting class. Parents can check with recreation departments, parks, hospitals, fire ­departments and other community groups for a babysitting course.

Babysitting courses such as the ­nationally recognized Safe Sitter program are geared toward ages 11 and older.

Safesitter.org is an easy-to-use site that helps parents find a local class. The website also has checklists that include “Is my child ready to babysit?”

Great local sources include Akron Children’s Hospital’s Safe Sitter Program, which is offered throughout the year and covers basic first aid, pool safety and injury prevention, among other topics. The Cleveland Clinic and Aultman Orville Hospital offer the program as well.

The American Red Cross also runs classes for babysitters. Check with your local chapter for in-person class times or visit redcross.org for a four-hour online Babysitting Basics class for kids 11 and older with videos, games and other ­activities. They learn how to stay safe, to choose age-appropriate activities and how to recognize and handle a variety of behaviors. The goal is to nurture confident babysitters.

A confident, mature child can be a terrific babysitter but only if everyone — parent and child alike — is ready for this important step.

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