As the teacher's strike continues here in Arizona, our thoughts turn to the many school-aged children who will be home alone during this time. Over a third of American school children are home alone for at least a portion of the time while their parents work.
Since most are struggling to make ends meet, child care is often not an option. So, how does a parent balance the need to keep kids safe and keep their job, too?
Kids love routines, especially younger ones. Doing the same things the same way every single day gives kids a sense of grounding. Kids who are left at home are often afraid, lonely, and unsettled. Routines bring comfort.
Kids love to make plans. Parents can use this love of planning to help kids prepare for the ‘what-if’ scenarios. “What if a fire starts?” “What if I hurt myself?” ‘“What if a stranger comes to the door?” Once kids have the answers to these questions, a parent can move to the next step.
Kids love to role play. Once they get the hang of what they’re supposed to do in a variety of situations, letting them practice those roles is highly beneficial. After all, we have entire evenings dedicated to adults so they can practice saying, “I do”. Why shouldn’t we devote some time to let the little ones pretend to call 911, call the neighbor if they smell something funny, and practice not opening the door when someone knocks. As we act a variety of different situations, kids will come to understand that their actions have consequences, and the best options carry the best results.
Some of the best ways a parent can be available to parent, even when they aren’t physically home is to have a presence in the house on multiple levels. This means a physical presence in the form of written instructions for the children. (We recommend tacking the instructions to the inside of the snack cupboard.) This is a spot where all outreach phone numbers are available. Kids should have at least two contacts, preferably people who have the ability to come over right away if there is a problem. The home address should also be listed since it’s easy to forget when a person is nervous! This is also a good place to keep the chore list, checklist, and other emergency numbers and information.
Another excellent way for a parent to remain involved is to have security measures to help kids stay safe. A checklist offers that, feeds into the routine that kids love, and gives them a sense of control. Doors locked? Check! Windows locked? Check! Security cameras on for Mom and Dad? Check!
Smart security gives parents the ultimate control in the home setting. Not only are nanny cams cheap and widely available, but a Ring doorbell will warn parents if a stranger is coming up to the front door before the kids even know it. Security cameras can scan virtually any part of a property. Also, parents can keep a running text chat going with the kids, so when the child has a problem, they feel a measure of security that Mom or Dad is ‘right there’.
Talk to them
After a full day of work and household chores on top of that, it seems like there is very little time to connect with the people who mean the most to us. But, talking to children will not only give us a unique perspective on their situation, but it will also provide them with a chance to unload their concerns. Ultimately, tools such as understanding security concepts, role-playing, and discussing their concerns will help children feel more secure and help them emerge into more confident people.
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