What age can I leave my child at home alone?

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I was having an interesting conversation the other day when the question was posed, ‘at what age can I leave my kids at home by themselves?’

It prompted me to review the law – which in my state of NSW Australia there is no set age although in Queensland it is age 12. It also varies around the world, some states in USA have a law that the minimum age is 8 years while in another state it is 14.

I guess the real question is how independent and responsible are your children? I will leave my youngest two (13 & 9) at home together for half an hour to go pick up my other kids but I wouldn’t leave them for a prolonged length of time without an older sibling or adult around to supervise. I also wouldn’t leave my 9 year old son at home alone yet – much to his disgust!

A key indicator that the child is ok to stay at home alone is the fact that the child feels safe and confident to be left alone. Obviously you wouldn’t leave a child at home under duress.

The maturity and willingness of a child of 10 to be home alone may be higher than a child of 14 – you need to assess each child to determine whether they can be trusted to be sensible if left alone. I assume that the discretion to know whether your child is mature enough to be home alone is the reason our state has no strict law on age eligibility.

In order to be left home alone some of the key skills children must have are:

  1. be able to follow instructions you have left
  2. be able to use a phone to call you if needed
  3. recall their address if they have to contact emergency services
  4. know when it is necessary to call for help
  5. know to not do any dangerous things (eg playing with fire) when home alone.

The other issue related to this whole grey area of whether a child is responsible enough to be home without adults is whether there are younger children to be supervised and whether the older child is capable of looking after those kids.

So in answer to the question I posed – there is no definitive answer, just the parent’s discretion to ensure their kids are safe.

(Photo courtesy of photostock, freedigitalphotos.net)

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The Grass Is Always Greener

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Flash back to six weeks ago and I was looking forward to the kid’s school holidays. I’d had enough of making lunches and encouraging (nagging) my kid’s to leave for school on time. I was sick of ensuring the kids had all their homework done and then confirming that they remembered to pack it to hand in the following day. I was also tired of being mum’s taxi shuffling kids to their extra curricular activities. I was ready for a break from all that to enjoy our winter school holidays.

The first few days were heaven with the kids relieved to have no school commitments. I enjoyed lying in and not worrying about what the kids would have for lunch, until almost lunchtime. But after a few days of relaxing the kids missed their friends and we were launched into frenetic socializing with school friends. My mum’s taxi route didn’t end; it just altered to collecting and dropping off kids for play dates.

Fast forward to today, the last day of the school holidays, and I can’t wait for the kids to go back to school so I can get my days back to myself. I’m longing to not have to hear whining about how bored the kids are and can they just have an outing, a friend over or some type of junk food. These holidays it actually seemed that the more organized a special outing was, the more the kids whinged about how bored they were. The best times they had these holidays were when they were left to come up with their own game or way to fill in time. They actually managed to devise some creative ways to entertain themselves.

So on the eve of the kid’s return to school, they are looking depressed at the looming term, whilst I’m the one trying my hardest to not do my happy dance in front of them. Tomorrow I may have to take back the responsibility of getting the kid’s into their school routine again, but thankfully I will be able to return to my normal routine as well (which includes more blogging and writing). But ask me in six weeks time and I’ll be craving school holidays again, because as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side!

What do you prefer: school holidays or school term?

Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield, freedigitialphotos.net

BEST AGE  

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The other day I was pondering when are your kids at their ideal age? I know we love them dearly at all stages and every age is unique but I came to the conclusion the best age is when they are seven!

At seven they are finally able to be rid of those bulky, restrictive car seats that harbour a treasure trove of things from lego pieces, to Barbie shoes to enough crumbs to do a schnitzel dinner. Finally you’re free from the restriction of having to always ensure that if they travel with a friend that they have a spare car seat or alternatively go through the motions of undoing copious amounts of straps to pass over your kid’s seat to reveal a whole new array of items such as sultanas, stray fries and old happy meal toys, hiding underneath. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to not have to deal with car seats again!

Furthermore, by seven, kids are a little independent – they can shower themselves, dress themselves and are skilled in the art of turning on the television in the morning, leaving you to doze (as best you can with the TV blaring) until a reasonable hour. They can ride a bike, swing on a swing without needing to be pushed and can play independently with friends. Parenting just becomes that bit easier.

At seven, they are also not too independent, which means they are too young to let their social lives ruin yours. They just come along with the family to friend’s houses, can be taken to a restaurant and are equally as happy to have a family night in! Once they become teenagers, they develop their own social lives, which inhibits yours, as you are their taxi service.

Homework is also great when they are seven. It’s usually just one sheet they get at the start of the week that needs to be returned at the end of the week, as opposed to high school where homework is a nightly chore. You also don’t need to refresh your quadratic equation and trigonometry skills when they are seven (just a hint – you will by the time they are in high school, so you might want to start studying now!).

One final thing that is great when they are seven is that they are usually missing teeth which leaves them with goofy smiles and a cute lisp whenever they have to say their age (how ironic this stage of life happens when they are ssssix and sssseven).

It’s funny that when they are little you can’t wait for them to grow up and when they are older, you wish you could turn back the clock. I don’t think I truly appreciated my kids being seven at the time, but with hindsight I realise that seven is the golden age!

What age do you think was your kid’s best age?

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PERFECTIONISTS  

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I recently had an interesting discussion with a mum who has been attending a course addressing anxiety in children. The lecturer made the point that people who are perfectionists often suffer anxiety if things are not done to the standard they desire. This requirement for perfection is then forced upon their children, also making them anxious if things aren’t done right.

She went on the say that parents who have a high level of expectation on their children, often intervene and actually take over the task their child should do (eg. homework, making bed, packing bag etc) to ensure it is done to their standard. This creates a vicious cycle because the child doesn’t learn to do the tasks for themselves and if the parent forgets to do something for the child it leaves the child feeling anxious and upset.

The advice the lecturer gave to the parents attending her course, was to let their children be more independent and to learn the consequences of not having things done perfectly. This will help build more resilient kids and will teach them a level of responsibility for their actions. A teacher is more interested in seeing a child’s attempt at homework, rather than the polished version that a parent has assisted (ie. done) for their child. If a child forgets to pack their library books, then they need to understand they can’t borrow new ones, until they remember to return the ones they already have.

I felt vindicated that a professional has the same opinion as I do on the subject of letting your children do things for themselves. I wrote a post last year ‘The fine line between assisting and doing’ on the subject of giving your children guidance but leaving them to do their homework themselves.

Children need parents to set examples for them, teach them life skills and give them a chance to take responsibility for their actions so that they grow into well-adjusted adults. So if you are a parent who is a perfectionist, take a deep breath and try to live with a little imperfection in your life so that you don’t create anxiety in your children. Kids need to live and learn – so let them!

“The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake – you can’t learn anything from being perfect.” – Adam Osborne

(Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, freedigitialphotos.net)

SCREEN TIME

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In a world driven by technology, the new first world dilemma seems to be how much screen time (ie. TV, ipads, video games etc) is appropriate for kids. I struggle with this as of course I understand the fun and relaxation that comes from using these devices (I’m a closet Candy Crush addict myself!). 

We came up with what we think is a workable rule in our house. During the week, the kids are allowed to watch TV in the morning until 7am, as long as they are already dressed for school. We then put on the news for half an hour to see what is happening in the world.

There is no television or screen time in the afternoons. This time is for homework without distraction and good old-fashioned play time (swimming, playing with the dog, backyard basketball etc). Mind you, most weekday afternoons are crammed with kid’s extra curricular activities so there isn’t a lot of free time outside of homework. 

We record the evening news and watch that after the kids go to bed, so dinnertime and bedtime are distraction free. Before we implemented this rule, I was always nagging the kids to do things to be met with a zombified silence or a mumbled ‘Okay, after this show finishes, it hasn’t got long!’

Friday afternoons, weekends and holidays are time for relaxation and the kids are free to sloth about watching TV or playing video games (although we do encourage them to do some physical fun activities as well).

I know some people argue that by limiting their access to screen time during the week makes them more addicted on the weekends, but I feel that at least the weekdays are productive.

What works in your home?

 

 

 

(Photo courtesy of Ambro, freedigitalphotos.net)

THE FINE LINE BETWEEN ASSISTING AND DOING

All parents with school age kids will relate to today’s post. Your child comes home with an assignment and has to take a poster; diorama; paper mache model or powerpoint presentation to school.

Where do you draw the line between helping your child and actually doing the project?

I recall an assignment my son had last year, where he had to make a model of a man-made structure. I gave him a shoebox; cellophane; glue and paddle pop sticks to make a model of a jetty over water. When we arrived at school with his proudly manufactured row of sticks, we were confronted with an Eiffel Tower and a Sydney Harbour Bridge. I took one look and thought there was no way in hell that a 7-year-old child had made (let alone helped with the construction of) these masterpieces. I didn’t know whether I should feel guilty for letting my son take a sub-standard project to school or whether indeed the parents of these kid’s realised that it would be very clear to the teacher that their child had not actually done their model themselves.Image

If the method adopted is for parents to take over kid’s projects, does that mean we will get a gold star for our efforts and graduate from Year One at the end of the year?

I finished school over two decades ago and I don’t really want to do it all over again! With four kids, I have my time already taken up just helping to guide them on how to complete their assignments. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to actually do all their reports and projects.

After all, the purpose of school is to educate your child!

So parents I implore you – put down your glue guns, paints and modeling clay and let your children express themselves in way that is appropriate for their age and skill set. You never know, they might enjoy it and even learn a thing or two!

 

 

What lengths have you gone to in helping with a child’s project?

 

 

 

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