Although we’re in a time of quarantine, there are just certain jobs that can’t be done from home. While it seems everyone else is working remotely, dressed comfortably in their pajamas, curled up on their couch, and eating their oatmeal, some people still have to “go to work,” like we all used to back in the day.
First of all, to the folks on the front lines dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak head-on, medical professionals, postal workers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, bus drivers, those working IT so Google Meet and Zoom and other remote-work apps don’t crash, first responders, and everyone else who keeps things running out there on the outside so we are all safe and functional—THANK YOU!
Some of you may find yourselves in a situation where you have to leave your kids home alone without adult supervision. So how do you handle them being home alone? (Cue little Kevin McCallister, hands to cheeks, mouth gaping open… )
Of course, leaving a 12-year-old home alone and leaving a 17-year-old home alone are two different things. You’ll need to make determinations based on your children’s ages. (Keep in mind that some states have laws concerning at what age and how long kids can be left home alone.) But no matter how old they are, you’ll want to think of two things: safety and boundaries. And you’ll want to have a good, thorough conversation with them about your expectations before they go solo for your peace of mind and for theirs. Some children are hesitant about staying home alone. This conversation can help them be more confident in their ability to stay home alone.
Safety for Kids at Home Alone
When thinking about how to keep your kids safe at home when you’re at work, a good mantra to live by is, expect the best but prepare for the worst. This means you need to prepare your kids for the “what ifs” that probably won’t, but could happen. Here are some tips:
- Be sure to leave your kids with at least one way of contacting you or another adult if they can’t reach you during your shift. Hopefully, they are able to call you, but if that’s not possible, make sure they know who to call in case of an emergency. If you don’t have a landline, hopefully, your child has a cell phone. If not, it might be a good idea to purchase a cheap call-and-text-only cell phone with prepaid minutes. You can grab these at pretty much any store—WalMart, Walgreens, some grocery stores even have them.
- Make a list of helpful phone numbers including: 911, phone numbers of trusted adults who can help your kids if something comes up. Post it in an accessible place. Include your personal phone number and your work number, even if your kids have them memorized—sometimes memory goes out the window if your kids are anxious or scared. Program the numbers into your child’s phone if they are not already and program them into your “house phone.”
- If your children will be home for extended periods, you may want to let one or more of your trusted adults or neighbors know your kids will be home alone and ask them to check in periodically.
- Establish some regular check-in times. For example, you’ll call them at designated times to check in and make sure everything is okay. Make it a rule that they must answer calls and that an unanswered call would signify an emergency situation. Let them know what the consequences will be for not responding in a timely fashion. Besides your regular, scheduled calls, make some random calls if possible. This is also where neighbors and trusted adults can help out. Explain that check-ins are not because of a lack of trust, but because you love them and care about their safety.
- Instruct your kids on what to do in the case of unexpected situations:
- There is a fire or the alarm goes off.
- A delivery person or someone comes to the door.
- It sounds like someone is trying to get in.
- The power goes out.
- A major storm sweeps through.
- Toilet clogs, water leaks, and other common household problems.
- Friends know you’re not home and want to come over.
- Discuss how and when to use 911. What situations warrant a call to you? What situations warrant an immediate call to 911?
- As you have the in-depth conversation with your child, ask if they have any questions or anything they are afraid of or unsure about. Are there any situations or scenarios that they want clarity on? They might have different concerns than the ones you thought about.
- Make sure there is enough food in the house that your kids can eat without a lot of preparation. It is also helpful to give them limits on how much they can eat of what. (For example: Eat all the snack food in this drawer that you want. This is what I have set aside for your lunch or dinner. Please do not touch things on these two shelves in the refrigerator or in the pantry.) Set boundaries on appliances they are allowed to use, such as the microwave is permitted, the stove or oven is not.
- Take necessary precautions with any medications (prescription or over-the-counter), alcohol, firearms, tobacco, car keys, lighters or matches. Do not assume your teen will make wise choices if they are accessible. Think of “childproofing” your house, but you’re “teen-proofing.” Take items to work with you that you do not want your teen to access, or lock them up.
Taking safety precautions like these helps protect kids from dangerous situations and outside threats when home alone. But what about protecting your kids from themselves? Even older teens still lack that fully-developed prefrontal cortex in the brain that drives good decision-making. This is a biological developmental reality that parents of teens often forget. Their still-developing brains need the parental guardrails of routines, rituals, and consistency. In a word: boundaries.
Keep in mind, during this unique time, your kids are probably nervous, bored, stir-crazy, cabin-fevered, and hurting for some social time with friends. They might be a little “different” during this time than the teen you are used to.
Some things to consider when forming boundaries for kids at home:
- Consider how you’ll handle the issue of your kids’ friends coming over to your house. Besides it being a health risk (why we are quarantining in the first place), kids are generally less apt to respect your rules when their friends are there and you’re not. Whatever you decide, be firm. You are the parent.
- Establish some boundaries with technology while you’re away.
- Internet/Gaming/TV Rules: This is a great time to revisit the parental controls on gaming consoles, televisions, cellphones, and other electronic devices. There are some great ideas here. You might need to consider using monitoring or parental control software to help curb temptations for your kids.
- One of the best things you can do to keep your child safe is to keep them busy—I mean productive! Make sure before you leave for work, they know what school work needs to be completed, what chores need to be done, how many pages they need to have read in a book, any fun or creative activities that you would like them to do. Then keep them accountable when you get home. Try your best to establish schedules, checklists, and routines for their day. This is what your “check-in” phone calls will be checking in on.
Keep in mind that rules without relationship lead to rebellion.
You have to have some dos to go with all the don’ts. If you continue to build your relationship with your kids in healthy ways when you are home through quality time, conversation, and meaningful connection, it greatly increases the chances that they’ll respect your rules and stay safe when you aren’t home.
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