Planning your childs homealone day

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For your home-alone plan to work, you and your child will need to set up a clear plan for how your child's day will be spent. You want to strike a balance between giving your child a reasonable degree of freedom and setting limits. You will want to talk about privileges and responsibilities, play time and work time. You will also need to go over ground rules and expectations. Remember that most children need a lot of help and guidance learning to structure their free time. The more clear and explicit you are with your child, the happier you all will be.

•Sit down and decide together what your child will be expected to do while you are away. This is the time to go over household responsibilities, caring for a family pet, homework rules, and rules about watching a younger sibling.

•What will your child's privileges be? Will he be allowed to watch TV? Use the computer and the Internet? Talk for long stretches on the telephone?

•What activities will be off-limits?

As you help your child organize and plan his time alone, try to think about all the particulars that are important to you and your family. For instance, do you want your child walking the dog when you are not at home? Will your child be allowed to take a shower? Some parents declare baths and showers off-limits, for fear a child will slip and fall. Every family has different "comfort zones" about what feels safe. You will have to decide on yours.

Your planning should cover everything from coping with emergencies to learning what to do with free time. It's important to be clear with your child about your concerns, rules, and expectations.

Here are some of the things you will want to work on as you prepare your child to be home alone:

Homework. Discuss with your child how she will get her homework done each day. What is the best time of day for her to do her schoolwork? Is it right after school, or does she first need time to relax and unwind when she gets home? Decide if it's realistic for your child to do her homework without you. She may need your help. Can she call you at work if she is baffled by a math problem?

Have your child choose a regular place in the house where she will do her schoolwork. Maybe she is most productive in the privacy of her own room. Or perhaps she prefers to work at the kitchen or dining-room table. Is there a desk, a comfortable chair, and good lighting where she will work? Be sure she has all the necessary supplies she will need, including paper, pencils, markers, and a calculator.

A homework plan is only a success if you follow through to see that the work is getting done.

Chores and household responsibilities. Discuss any chores your child is responsible for when you are not there. These might include feeding the dog, emptying the dishwasher, or setting the table. After you and your child have come to an agreement, write out a list of the chores and responsibilities and post it in the kitchen. This can serve as a daily reminder as well as a checklist for your child. Decide if you want to reward your child for meeting these household responsibilities.

Television. As you look at your child's homework and household responsibilities, you may decide there is time for an hour or so of TV when you are not there. Though it's difficult to limit TV viewing when you aren't there to supervise, it's still important to set firm limits with your child if this is important to you. Go over the TV schedule and discuss which shows are appropriate for your child to watch. Do the same with videos. Have your child select the shows she wants to watch, and together make up a TV schedule. Television fills a void for children who are home alone and can be a good companion. If you are concerned that your child is watching too much TV, suggest she do other things while she's watching, like drawing or writing in her journal or sorting socks, so that it's not "wasted" time.

Computer/electronic games. If your family has a computer, you may want to discuss whether or not your child is allowed to use it when you are not home. Does your child know how to turn the machine on and off responsibly, and to access games and programs? If you are connected to the Internet, decide whether you want your child to be allowed to access it when you are not home. Some Internet sites are not safe for children.

Telephone. Decide if you want to set limits on how much time your child spends talking on the phone with friends. Or using the phone to access the Internet. A busy signal could prevent you from calling home if your child is on the computer or if you don't have "call waiting."

Friends visiting. Your child may want friends to visit when you are not home. Decide what your rule will be about this. Many parents do not allow their child to visit in a house where no adult is present. Your decision will depend upon how you feel about this, how the parents of your child's friends feel, and your children's ages.

Once you and your child have agreed on a home-alone plan, put these details and instructions in writing. Have your child do this with you. Here's an example of what a typical weekly plan might look like:

Activity Plan for the Week of:

I will do my homework from:

These are the chores I will need to get done:

These are the chores I will need to get done:

I may watch TV from:

These are the TV shows I will watch:

These are the TV shows I will watch:

Other special instructions (regarding use of the computer, use of the phone, friends, instrument practice, etc.)

I will do my homework from:

I may watch TV from:

Remember that even the best plans can change. Set aside a time to review these rules and agreements regularly, to be sure your family plan is working for all of you. If it's not, then figure out together how to change it.

Also, you will want to give your child a strategy for what to do if the plans you've put in place on a given day suddenly change or are called into question. What if a friend invites your child over to play and she can't reach you at work to ask if it's okay to go? What if she wants to stay after school to work on a paper, or attend a band rehearsal? Should she call you first to check in?

Finally, remember that if you want your child to follow through with his end of the deal—to abide by the plan you've agreed upon—then you need to follow through, too. If you've told your child that you will call to check in at a certain time, don't forget to do it. And always make an effort to come home when you told your child you would.

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