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Ask Rene: Should I Let My Daughter Stay Home Alone?

 

Hi Rene,

My daughter, Maggie, is 11-years-old and just started 6th grade. She is our only child and we love her dearly and I guess we are, in some ways, over-protective. She is younger than most students in her grade, as they are already 12 or turning 12 during the school year. We knew that going into middle school was going to bring new challenges for her (hormonal, teasing, attitude) but our latest challenge has been the issue of Maggie going to day care after school. 

Realizing she is one of very few who gets picked up by the day care bus (“Mom, I’m the ONLY one of 800 students who gets picked up by a day care bus!”), she is now completely embarrassed to go to day care and feels she is too old to attend. I certainly empathized with her and told her as much, but as working parents, we don’t have many options, both physically and monetarily. We have now seen a shift in her behavior that includes acting out in ways that show me I cannot trust her to be mature enough to be by herself, like sneaking a phone to school, blatantly disobeying her day care teachers and “I can do whatever I want” attitude. 

This day in age is much different from when I was growing up; I was a latch-key kid and took care of my younger brother by myself when I was nine- years-old. Am I right in thinking that she is too young to be on her own after school? Please also take in consideration the summer’s where she would be alone all day. I would, of course, get her involved in some summer activities, but we would need to rely on someone to drive her/pick her up too. She does have a trusted friend who’s mom is stay at home. But they have four kids and I’m not even sure would consider taking on one more (we would pay her of course).

Many thanks!

 

Hi there!

As a working mom, I feel your pain but you know what? There is a really, REALLY easy way to kill two birds with one stone, maybe even more. Your daughter hates day care, you want her to grow up and stop acting out. The upshot of it is this: I do think that Maggie is old enough to stay home on her own for a few hours after school. But that means you and your husband are going to have to ease up on the reins a tiny bit. So here’s what I would do if I were you.

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EXPLAIN THE SITUATION TO MAGGIE

Maggie is 11-years-old and in the 6th grade; while she may be your baby, she is not a baby. She’s old enough to understand concepts like budgets and responsibility, so talk to her. Make this a team effort.  It’s not you and your husband against Maggie as much as it’s all of you together trying to find a solution that works for everyone. After you’ve cleared the air, explain that you’ve thought about this and are willing to make some concessions….

 GIVE MAGGIE SOME CONTROL
OVER HER SITUATION

I truly believe this and have seen it in my own kids; they will rise to the level of expectation. Tell Maggie you’re going to let her make some decisions in her own after school care but that she’s going to have step up too. The flip side of freedom is responsibility which means…

 COME UP WITH A DEAL

 Maggie needs to earn the right to stay home alone. That means the acting out and sassy mouth need to stop ASAP. Explain that, as in the real word, bad behavior is not rewarded (or should not be); good behavior is.

1. Maggie must show she is responsible enough to stay home alone. Monitor her; mouthy, sassy behavior she gets a demerit,  handling household chores without being asked earns her a check in the plus column. At the end of said time she has either earned the right to be on her own after school or it’s back to the drawing board.

2. In the contract, you will spell out the things that are expected of Maggie. Coming home and being by herself doesn’t mean plopping in front of the TV and eating junk until you come home. Whether it be clean her room, start dinner, take out the trash, doing her homework,  she must help out.

3. Lay down the ground rules and make sure everyone is clear on what they are. That may be no friends in the house, her not answering the door, not using the stove, checking in with you every hour or whatever else you deem important.

4. Both parties sign it and place it somewhere prominently.

FOLLOW THROUGH

Part of our job as parents is to prepare our kids for life outside our front door and that means being able to care for themselves. At some point Maggie is going to have to know these things so why not start teaching her now? If you feel uneasy about her being at home, there are apps you can use like this one that will automatically alert you when your child has arrived safely. There’s also the good, old-fashioned phone call.

Make sure she knows who to call (perhaps the neighbor) and what to do in the event of an emergency too.

Maybe you could try it for a couple of weeks and then reassess.. or try it part-time and see how it works.

I know it won’t be easy given that she’s your one and only.. but mom, it’s time to try.

Good Luck!

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