Home Alone: Is My Child Ready?

House

By Dena Embrey, Courier & Press, June 28, 2016 –

Whether they are making a quick trip to the grocery store or working during summer or after-school hours, all parents will eventually face the question, “Is my child ready to stay home alone?”

Whether they’re alone for 30 minutes or 3 hours, unsupervised children can face real risks. Many factors need to be considered before making this important decision. The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers the following advice on what to consider before leaving your child home alone:

Age and maturity. There is no set age when children are able to stay home alone safely. Determine your child’s maturity level by considering the following questions: Is my child able to physically/mentally care for himself? Does my child obey rules and make good decisions? How does my child respond to stressful situations? Does my child feel comfortable or fearful about staying home alone?

Circumstances. When and how you leave your child home alone can make a big difference in her safety and success. You should consider the following: For how long/often will my child be expected to care for herself? Is my neighborhood safe? Are there trusted adults nearby who could offer assistance in case of an emergency? Will my child be caring for younger siblings?

Safety Skills. Children left home alone need to be able to perform certain skills to ensure safety. Does your child know his full name, address and phone number? Can he use a key to get inside and securely lock doors once they have entered? Can he perform basic first aid? Does he know how to safely prepare a meal? Does your child know what to say or do if someone calls or comes to the door? Can he reach you or another trusted adult at any time?

Once you have taken all of this into consideration and determined your child is ready to stay home alone, here are some steps in preparing them and easing any anxieties they may feel:

Have a practice run where you leave home for a short time while staying nearby. This can help identify any issues that you might not have considered before.

Role play possible scenarios your child may face such as an unexpected visitor or phone call. Act out how to safely respond without revealing they are home alone.

Establish rules about what is allowed while you are away. Set clear guidelines for watching TV, going outside or using electronic devices. Make sure they have activities to keep them busy to avoid boredom or loneliness. Make sure to remove or secure alcohol, medications, firearms or any other possible risk to your child’s health and safety.

Discuss emergency procedures and where important phone numbers are kept.

Identify trusted adults they can contact if needed. Set a time to check in with your child and have a code word they can use in the event of an emergency.

Listen to your child’s feelings about staying home alone, especially if this is a new experience. Even the most mature and responsible children shouldn’t be left home alone too much. Consider other options such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations or faith-based organizations to help keep your child connected and involved.

It is also important to consider child protective policies to avoid behavior that is considered neglectful. Prevent Child Abuse Indiana provides the following brochure to help guide parents in making this difficult decision: in.gov/dcs/files/Home_Alone_Brochure.pdf.

If you have concerns about a child being neglected or left home without adequate supervision, please call the Indiana Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556 to make a report.

Avoiding Summer Boredom

Summer fun

By Dena Embrey, LCSW, Courier & Press, June 7, 2016 –

Summer break is here, and families often look forward to sleeping in and not rushing through the morning routine. Maybe you have a vacation planned, or your child is looking forward to summer camp.

For families with school-aged children, making the transition from the highly structured routine of the school year to the relaxed feel of summer can be difficult. Before too long you start to hear those dreaded words, “I’m bored,” or “There’s nothing to do.” Soon siblings start fighting and everyone’s stress levels go up.

Planning ahead and keeping a schedule can help you avoid this being your summer reality. A schedule brings order to your days, giving your child needed structure and reducing anxiety.

It’s good to have set times for waking up, meals, chores and preferred activities. Display your daily schedule for the whole family to see and review together. Include your children in the process, letting them have some say in what activities are included.

As a parent, you have to be prepared for unexpected changes and those days when things just don’t go as planned. Rainy days, illnesses or canceled play dates will inevitably get in the way. Having a list of fun ways to engage your children as a backup plan could be a life saver.

Here are some activities you may want to include on your list:

1. Go outside to play and explore. You can keep it as simple as taking a bike ride, blowing bubbles, visiting a playground, watering the garden or taking a walk around the neighborhood.

2. Go on a hike at a nearby park.

3. Plan an outdoor scavenger hunt and create a scrapbook of everything you find.

4. Visit a nature preserve and get a guided tour.

5. Set up a tent in your backyard and camp out with a bonfire, s’mores and stargazing.

6. Go old school and teach your kids some of your favorite childhood games. Hide and seek, monkey in the middle and tag are always good go-to games.

7. Look through old photos and compare your child’s baby pictures and your own or create a family tree together.

8. Spend some time in the kitchen making old family recipes.

9. Work a puzzle or build a fort out of blankets and cushions.

10. Get creative with your kids by busting out the play dough (or make your own).

11. Use sidewalk chalk to make an outdoor mural.

12. Create art using only materials found in your recycling.

13. Write and illustrate a story together, or turn your favorite book into a play, acting it out with costumes and all.

14. Have a family talent show or karaoke party.

15. Do something nice for someone else — visit a nursing home or elderly person and read to them. Plan and prepare a meal for a family who is going through a difficult              time, pick up trash at a local park or volunteer at an animal shelter.

16. Go through old clothes and toys and donate items no longer needed. Take lemonade and cookies to your local fire station.

Following a schedule during the summer teaches children time management, responsibility and organization, all healthy life skills. How loose or rigid your schedule needs to be will depend on your family’s needs. Finding the right balance of structure and relaxation will help create the peaceful and fun summer your family deserves.

Navigating a Girl’s World

By Dena Embrey, Courier & Press, Sept. 1, 2015 – Working as a Youth First Social Worker in an elementary school, I frequently talk to girls who are having friendship problems.

They often report being teased, criticized, excluded or the victim of gossip and rumors. I hear about how they struggle to be included, and they are often confused by the hot and cold treatment they receive from friends.

During one recent conversation with a sixth grader, she said she wished things were easy again like in first grade when no one cared about who was popular.

Author Rosalind Wiseman addresses the new realities of today’s girl world in her book “Queen Bees & Wannabes.” She supports the idea that bullying behaviors typically associated with adolescent girls are occurring at younger ages.

“Queen Bees & Wannabes” helps break down the challenges young girls encounter as they deal with cliques, teasing, gossip and rumors. Wiseman also educates parents and offers advice on how to help girls navigate their social world. Here are a few of Wiseman’s recommendations:

Seek out ways to strengthen your daughter’s self-esteem. Get her involved in activities she enjoys and expose her to different social groups. Teach her what it means to be a true friend. Don’t expect her to like everyone, but do expect her to respect everyone.

Establish yourself as a source of support. Don’t pass judgment or dismiss your daughter’s experiences by telling her, “Just ignore it,” or “You’re better off without them.” Instead, listen respectfully, thank her for telling you, and help her to identify appropriate ways of confronting the problem. Encourage her to be assertive and respectful.

Practice what you preach. One of the best ways to teach your daughter about positive social behavior is through role modeling. Ask yourself if you are engaging in the same behaviors you are trying to teach your daughter. If your answer is no, own up to it and use your mistakes as a teachable moment.

Limit and monitor her use of technology. One of the biggest impacts on today’s girl world is the access children have to technology like cellphones and the Internet. When used unethically, these can be powerful tools in bullying or harassing others. Parents who allow their children access to these tools are also responsible for teaching the safe and ethical way to use them. Parents must also go one step further and monitor use by having access to their child’s password and taking advantage of the controls offered by cellphone/Internet providers.

Remember that parenting is not a popularity contest. You are not meant to be your daughter’s best friend. Setting limits, holding her accountable and teaching her respect for herself and others are all part of your job as a parent. Her anger with you will only be temporary.

As young girls move toward adolescence, it is normal to rely less on parents and more on friends. The relationships a girl has with her friends play a major role in developing her self-image and future patterns of behavior. Despite this, parents should not underestimate the significant role they play in offering guidance and helping develop healthy relationship patterns.