Facts for Living: Home alone – set rules, routines and schedules

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

080714-facts-for-living1Previously, I shared information about children in self-care, assessing your child’s readiness, and preparing your child with the essential information and skills to stay home alone. In addition to teaching your child the essential information and skills, develop rules, routines and schedules with him or her to help self-care go more smoothly.

Rules: You and your child should work together to establish reasonable rules for when he or she is home alone. Having your child help develop the rules will go a long way in ensuring that he or she remembers them and complies. As you make rules, consider the following:

  • Visitors – decide if friends will be allowed to come to your home, if so, which ones.
  • Boundaries – decide if your child will be allowed to play outside or go to the library, park, recreation center or a friend’s house.
  • Telephone and Internet use – decide how long your child can talk on the phone or stay on the Internet.
  • Siblings – each child who stays home without an adult needs to understand and follow the rules. Make it clear whether an older child is to be in charge of a younger one or if each child is responsible for himself or herself. Discuss and be specific about how you expect the children to resolve conflicts or report problems.

Routines and schedules: Developing a daily routine or schedule with your child will help him or her feel more secure and use the time more constructively. Discuss with your child what to do after checking in – eat a snack, do homework, play, do chores, read or whatever else you agree upon. Provide your child with structure, but also allow for some choices. To help you and your child be more organized, try posting a weekly schedule where you post other information.

Once you and your child have prepared for self-care, begin with a trial period to see how your child adjusts to the situation. Your child will likely feel more comfortable starting with a temporary arrangement. A trial period enables you to more easily end the arrangement if you or your child believes he or she is not ready to stay home alone. Throughout the trial period, talk to your child often about how he or she really feels about staying home alone. Are the rules and routines working? Does he or she feel safe?

Also observe your child. Does your child seem happy and relaxed with the arrangement or is he or she showing signs of not adjusting to self-care? Some signs that your child is not adjusting to self-care include:

  • Talking about being scared.
  • Not wanting you to go to work.
  • Making frequent calls to you at work.
  • Carry weapons such as shoes, bats, etc. around the house or to bed.
  • Not doing school work and having other problems at school.

If for some reason self-care does not work out, you will want to look for a good afterschool program or summer care. If after the trial period you and your child decide self-care is working, continue to do what is necessary to make it a successful arrangement. With proper preparation and communication, your child is more likely to feel safe and secure. You will also be more confident and have the peace-of-mind that the experiences will be a positive one for your child.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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