Despite America’s new love affair with remote work, not all jobs can be done from home. If you’re a parent who has to leave the house to go to work but your child needs to be home because they’re enrolled in virtual learning, you’re not alone. Thanks to the pandemic, millions of parents are in the same situation.
Obviously some kids are too young to leave alone at home, hence why states have specific laws about what age children can be left alone, and for how long (most social workers think kids should be at least 12 before they’re left home alone for four hours or longer). If they are old enough and you feel comfortable with them being alone while you’re away, the good news is there are ways to maximize their safety. Here are a few tips for dealing with what can feel like an impossible situation if you’re a parent who has to leave the house to go to work while your child is at home in virtual school.
1. Have a backup plan in case they can’t reach you.
If they need you, but they can’t reach you because, say, you’re in a meeting or away from your phone at the moment, who will be their backup? Whether it’s another parent, a neighbor, or a grandparent, deciding who that person is—and letting both your child and the contact person know ahead of time—will be key to keeping your child calm if they have a question or concern and they can’t reach you. If you have a landline, it might be a good idea to leave them with a fully charged mobile phone, too, in case a storm plows through and the line goes dead for a bit.
2. You may also want to ask someone to check in on them.
This depends a lot on your child, but it might be helpful to arrange a daily check-in where someone drops by at around the same time every day (neighbors are ideal for this), or maybe it’s another caregiver who can pop in unannounced several times per week. Whatever assistance you can muster, some kids will perform better in school, stay calmer, and be happier overall if they have some sort of in-person interaction with others throughout the day. Plus, it will give you peace of mind to know that at some point, there will be another adult in the house.
3. Do a run-through of unexpected situations.
Make a list of things that are most likely to happen while they’re home alone, such as the power going out, a strange smell or smoke coming from somewhere, or someone knocking on the door. Talk about what to do in each of those situations, and consider posting a how-to-deal-with-this-and-that list on the refrigerator or somewhere where they can easily see it. Depending on your child’s personality and age, it might also be helpful to do some role playing. For example, go outside and pretend to be a stranger knocking, and ask if an adult is home. Make sure you go through the do’s and don’ts of what to say and what not to say. For example, it’s better for them to say my mom is in the shower than to say she’s not home at all.
4. Show them how to whip up easy snacks and lunches.
From PB&Js to heating up leftovers in the microwave, arm your kiddo with the means to make a few small meals that require little to no actual cooking, and make sure they have plenty of healthy snacks on hand, too. If your child has dietary concerns, go through the rules of eating and drinking when you’re not there and remind them you can do an inventory check when you get home, in case they’re tempted to eat something they shouldn’t.
5. Lock things up.
Be sure you lock up, beyond the windows and doors. Since safety is the top priority, keeping medications, firearms, matches, alcohol, lighters, and car keys inaccessible is paramount. Even the best kids can be tempted to try something new when they’re bored, so go through the house and make sure that your child can’t access anything dangerous. Using a handy safety checklist can simplify the process of helping make sure you haven’t forgotten any hazards. You’ll have far less to worry about when you’re trying to help customers or attend meetings at work.
6. Set physical boundaries.
Are they allowed to shoot hoops in the driveway after school? Play in the backyard at lunchtime? Have a certain neighbor or friend over after school? Talking through the rules is important, as most kids will assume that anything they can do when you’re home is probably just fine, including going outside. Letting them know how far they can and can’t physically go will help you get ahead of a potential problem.
7. Make sure they’re busy.
Kids tend to get into trouble when they have nothing to do. Discuss when homework should be done and consider giving them a few chores to do, such as feeding a pet and taking out the trash. Keeping them busy during the time when they’re not in virtual school is important.
8. Schedule a video check-in.
There’s nothing like seeing your kiddo’s face on screen to give you peace of mind. Whether you opt for Facetime or Zoom or something else, try scheduling one at the same time every day. This helps your colleagues at work know you’re blocked off during that time, and gives your child a concrete time they know they’ll get to talk to you if they have questions (which can help limit the number of times they call you during the day to ask about a math problem or whether or not there are any chips left). This will also give you a peek at the condition of your house (!), so you can have a better idea of how things are really going.
9. Remind them that staying home alone is a sign of maturity.
This show of faith will likely give their confidence a boost, but it also requires responsibility. Treating them like they’re ready for it may enhance the likelihood that they’ll act accordingly, as most kids hate disappointing their parents. Hey, it’s worth a try!