Q: What are some indicators that a child is old enough to get off the bus and stay at home by himself after school until i get home from work around dinner time? My son is 10 and i think he is ready, but some of my friends question my decision.
A: I think you are asking the right questions when you ask about signs of readiness. We always say it is never about an age but about a level of maturity. Ask yourself, is this child fairy responsible? Does he remember to bring home schoolwork? Does he keep track of jackets and other belongings? Does he do his homework without a lot of reminding? Does he keep his room reasonably clean and is he polite and respectful to parents and other adults? If the answer to all of the above is yes, then you can start to prepare him for more independence.
Write down the rules of the house. This would include whether he is allowed to have friends over or go anywhere other than home. What about snacks and use of kitchen appliances? You will also want to state rules about screen time. How much is okay? After you establish the rules, you want to help him practice handling any emergencies that could come up. What would he do if a stranger came to the door or fire broke out? What if you did not arrive home when expected? The more you help him practice skills beforehand the more likely it will be that your son stays calm and makes good choices should the need arise.
It might be helpful to have a neighbor on call if he needed an adult’s help. While ten might seem a bit young to have this much responsibility, it is certainly not too young to let him know what he needs to do in order for him to gain this level of independence. Starting with one day a week might be a good idea. If you feel he is not fully ready to be alone the entire afternoon, an alternative might be to hire a college student who is looking to earn some spending money. The student could come for an hour or two and while he or she is there he could help your son with his homework.
Q: My firstborn has just gone off to college in another state and i must say that i find myself feeling really blue and worrying about whether she will be okay so far from home. Any thoughts?
A: I can still remember the day we dropped our son off at college. I actually had a panic attack in the car on the way home. His campus suddenly seemed like the end of the earth! Here’s what helped me. I tried to stay very busy in those first few weeks. I took on additional work and made more time for friends. Exercise and yoga can also be very therapeutic. For me, the blues passed when we visited in October for parents weekend and I saw that my son was healthy, happy, and finding his way. Make sure that you give your daughter some space as she learns the ropes. I would try to keep phone calls to once a week, unless of course she calls you. When you do talk let her know that you trust in her ability to manage her new life and to make good choices. She is dealing with her own struggles of fitting in, making new friends, and possibly some homesickness. She should not have to worry about you and your needs at this time in her life. When you speak to her, try to sound upbeat and positive. I can just about promise that those blues will pass and you will begin to see the advantages of an empty nest.
Susan Brown is assistant director of Commonwealth Parenting, a mother and a teacher.