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Parent & Child
Home Alone this Summer
By Courtesy of ARA Content 
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Jun 6, 2006, 10:18

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(ARA) - Here comes summer and if you're the parent of a pre-teen, you can bet this question is coming, too: "Why can't I stay home by myself this summer?"

How do you know when they're ready to be on their own at home while you're at work? "Part of successful parenting lies in the ability to accurately assess your child's level of maturity," says Dr. James Longhurst, a licensed psychologist for Starr Commonwealth, a child and family services organization founded nearly a century ago. "The foundation for how they will handle themselves was established at day one. If you've been in tune with your child over the years, you'll know when they're ready."

Certainly you'll want to check to see if there are state regulations governing at what age a child can stay home alone, says Longhurst, but your best indicator will be that little voice inside. "If you have concerns, it means you probably should have concerns," he says. "One of a child's developmental stages involves responsibility. Sensitivity to where your child is on the developmental continuum can help you make wise accommodations."

One child may need no guidance at all about using the oven on her own, for example, while another may be safer just making sandwiches for himself at lunch. A child who will end up in front of the television all day needs more direction than one who's more productive with his time.

The point is exhaustive lists of dos and don'ts aren't nearly as helpful as rules that take a child's particular situation into account. "Situational parenting means you offer more or less direction, depending on the situation," says Longhurst. "This kind of flexibility shows your child that you understand who he is and that, in turn, builds confidence and trust."

Emergency procedures, whether or not to allow friends in the house when you're gone, household tasks that need to be accomplished - these are just a few of the issues you and your child should discuss and settle together. Longhurst's highly successful work with troubled youth at Starr Commonwealth has shown him that when kids have an opportunity to help set the rules for their own behavior they end up embracing those rules and living up to the trust placed in them. "Identify the areas up for discussion and then really discuss them. Let kids know you want them to be part of the process," he says.

Longhurst suggests other activities that can help your child have a summer "alone" that helps build family bonds and personal confidence:

* Check with your child's school to find out what subject areas they'll be studying in the coming year. Then, get creative. Rent movies that pertain to the subject, for example. "Make activities like watching TV productive rather than consumptive," says Longhurst.

* Help them discover a new hobby. If your child is interested, photography can be a good choice. There's plenty of subject matter around the house or in the neighborhood. A simple camera, even a disposable one, allows them to see the familiar with new eyes. "Many communities have classes or camps with a focus on a particular hobby," says Longhurst. "This can help break up the summer a bit and offer some new opportunities for your child."

* Love tomatoes? Enjoy flowers? Plant a small garden together and let your child tend it during the week. It's a great family activity, too, one you can enjoy together in the evenings or on the weekends.

* Look for volunteer opportunities in your community. There are plenty of activities a child can do for a favorite organization without leaving the house. Charities always need people to address envelopes, design flyers, even bake items for bake sales. "Service learning is important to healthy development," says Longhurst. "It teaches us that we're a part of something bigger than just ourselves."

For more information about Starr Commonwealth and Montcalm Schools, Starr's private residential treatment program for girls and boys ages 12 to 18, call (866) 289-9201 or visit their Web sites at www.montcalmschool.org or www.starr.org.

Courtesy of ARA Content


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