By Samantha Sacks
With five kids ranging from seven to 17, Jasper, Alta., mom Cyndi Day is no neophyte when it comes to the delicate art of parenting. But all the experience in the world couldn’t avert the accident that occurred when she left her 12-year-old daughter in charge while her husband nipped out to pick her up from work. During the 15-minute departure, Day’s three-year-old tripped, hitting her head on the corner of a wall. Fortunately, the sibling in charge thought to contact a neighbour who was available to drive the toddler to the hospital, but the real fall-out came from the horrible feelings of guilt and failure she experienced. “My daughter was very upset and it took some time before she felt comfortable watching the kids again,” Day recalls.
Day’s story is not uncommon, says Gary Direnfeld, a social worker based in Dundas, Ont. Knowing when your preteen is ready for small doses of responsibility is a matter of parental judgment, and all of the precautions in the world can’t bypass every possible calamity. “There are inherent risks in parenting and letting go, but we do so in a measured way,” says Direnfeld.
And not letting go can come with a cost of its own. According to Direnfeld, the child deprived of responsibility early on may not value it later, and a teen with newfound responsibility can get into far more trouble than a 10-year-old. Good responsibility starting points for a preteen, says Direnfeld, include:
Despite what your child might argue, age alone does not determine whether or not he is capable of extra responsibility such as looking after himself. “Each of our older children reached the magic age of maturity at a different point,” says Cyndi Day. “There was no specific age — rather an attitude, level of responsibility and self-assurance.”
Samantha Sacks is a freelance writer and mother of three very independentÂ children aged six, four and two.
Your child has shown he can handle extra responsibility, and now you’re wondering if you can trust him to stay alone in the house for an hour after school. The age at which children can legally be left at home alone for short periods of time varies from province to province, from 10 to 12 years. The Canada Safety Council (CSC) recommends that all children under the age of 16 be supervised remotely with parents checking in regularly.
Here are a few questions from the CSC that parents should ask themselves before leaving a child alone:
These steps can make staying home alone safer for your child:
Finally, use baby steps to introduce the home alone concept with short test runs — maybe 20 minutes while you visit a neighbour — to see how your child handles the responsibility. When you return, talk to your child about the experience.