Do you worry about your kids staying home alone all day while you're at work? Here are some tips for establishing a summer schedule for your kids -- and getting through the summer unscathed:
- Communicate your expectations. So that there are no surprises, let your kids know exactly what you expect of them during the summer months – particularly if they will be spending long chunks of time on their own or in the care of others. In addition, if you don't already start the week with a Sunday-night family meeting, summer is a great time to start. The stakes are generally lower than during the school year (given that your kids probably have far less homework during the summer), and schedules tend to be a little looser than when school is in session.
- Set limits. How much TV do you want your kids to watch? And what about computer use and video game time? Left to their own devices -- literally -- they may opt not to put limits on their own usage. So you will need to communicate rules around what they can use and when. Consider using your computer or tablet's own settings to define limits for each account, too. In addition, be sure to put physical limits on the things you don't want your kids to have access to, like: alcohol, over-the-counter and prescription medications, firearms, and pornography. Kids are curious! So don't leave anything hanging around that you don't want them to get into.
- Develop a schedule. Hours and hours of free time can be difficult for kids to manage on their own. Help them out by creating a basic routine they can work around. For example, divide the day into three blocks: chores in the morning, lunch by 1:00, and free time in the afternoon.
- Dole out responsibilities. Decide what you want your kids to accomplish while you're at work. From making their beds, to preparing a healthy lunch, there's a lot they can do to help out. And summer is also a great time for introducing your children to next-level chores that you'll want them to be accustomed to before the school year starts. For example, tweens may be ready for new tasks like vacuuming, while you can teach your teens how to do laundry [link] or help prepare dinner.
- Keep the learning going. Summer the perfect time to encourage self-directed learning. Encourage your kids to read books about subjects that interest them or to complete a series written by their favorite author. Speak with your kids' teachers or guidance counselors, too, about summer enrichment programs and growth opportunities in your area.
- Teach your kids what to do in an emergency. Even older children may need a refresher course in how and when to call 9-1-1 before staying home alone during the summer. So take the time to role play various scenarios and make sure they know what to do. In addition, keep an updated copy of your emergency contact information [link] tacked to the refrigerator or in another prominent location so that your kids will always know where it is if they need it.
- Have back-up plans in place. Surprises happen. Even kids who start out confident at the beginning of the summer can begin to express fears about being home alone for so many hours. If this happens, revert to Plan B. This may mean having a neighbor check in on the kids, hiring a high school or college student to be there for several hours of the day, or sharing child care with a friend.
- Include your ex. Finally, if you're co-parenting with your ex, make a point of reviewing your summer parenting schedule early on so that you can both request time off from work, if needed, to fill any gaps in coverage. If you're working together, then work together to make the summer routine work for all of you.