Preparing your children for your return to work
Children may experience a variety of emotions when a parent is preparing to return to work, especially if you have been at home together for almost every moment of the past few months. Most of these feelings are due to change, something that children do not always welcome with open arms. Stability makes children feel safer, and with any major change, this stability is no longer certain. Use the following tips to ease the transition:
- Communicate with your children well in advance. This may help to alleviate any fears and may prevent your children from thinking up stories that could be worse than the actual scenario. Being honest and open may help prevent further anxieties.
- Spend time alone with each child. Tell your child how much they are loved, offer hugs, make playtime a priority and aim to create a deeper emotional bond between yourself and each of your children.
- Discuss your work. If your children are old enough to understand, share your pride in your work and its importance to the family.
- Encourage the sharing of emotions. You children may not want to let you know they are scared, upset or angry with you for leaving. If this is the case, bring up the topic by mentioning your feelings. This can lead to a discussion where feelings can be shared between children and parents.
- Involve your children in preparing for your return to work. Let your children help you pack your work bag or briefcase and explain why you are packing certain items.
- Talk about how you will communicate. Keeping in touch is extremely important for the first few weeks of your new routine. Think of fun and interesting ways to communicate, including email, instant message and video calls. This helps him or her feel special and loved.
When children have to be home alone
With the uncertainty of finding child care given the current need to maintain social distancing, many parents are facing a decision: Are my kids able to stay home alone when I return to work? The following information can help you make that decision, as well as help you prepare your children and yourself for them to be home alone.
Being trusted to stay home alone can be a positive experience for a child who is mature and well prepared and can boost the child’s confidence and promote independence and responsibility. However, children face risks when left unsupervised. Those risks, as well as a child’s comfort level and ability to deal with challenges, must be considered.
Keep in mind that, depending on the laws and child protective policies in your area, leaving a young child unsupervised may be considered neglect, especially if doing so places the child in danger. Before you make any decision, check with your local authorities to determine if there is a local or state law regarding the legal age at which children may be left home unsupervised.
Once those requirements are satisfied, parents should determine whether their child is comfortable staying home alone. Children who are easily frightened or do not wish to stay alone are not ready for the responsibility. If a child wants to stay home alone, parents should consider the following factors before making the decision.
Does the child:
- Have good judgment?
- Have self-discipline?
- Follow directions well?
- Manage simple chores?
- Problem-solve well?
- Know how to remain calm in difficult situations?
- Know basic first-aid procedures?
- Have experience handling emergencies?
- Understand and follow safety measures?
Parents who feel comfortable about their child’s responsibility and maturity level should first have a trial period. Leave the child home alone for a short time and stay close to home. Thirty minutes is a good amount of time for a trial period. Be sure to be reachable during that trial period.
If this is successful and staying home alone is possible, parents should still:
- Establish rules and be sure the child knows what is and is not allowed when home alone.
- Check in while away to see how the child is doing. If calling, it is good to set an exact time so the child knows it is a parent calling. An alternative to calling the child is to have a trusted neighbor or friend pop in to check on what is happening.
- Get a report from the child afterwards and encourage him or her to share feelings about staying home alone.
Some rules parents might consider establishing while the child is home alone include:
- Having friends over while an adult is not present is not acceptable.
- Television and video games have time limits.
- Computer and internet rules ban the surfing of unapproved sites.
- Cooking and kitchen tool rules (for example, is he or she allowed to use the microwave but not the stove?).
- Doors should always remain locked (and security system turned on, if appropriate).
- Never tell anyone he or she is home alone.
- In preparation for the time the child is to be home alone, parents should:
- Have emergency numbers of friends, family members and neighbors in an easily visible location.
- Post a schedule with location information for parents during the time away from home.
- Be sure emergency supplies such as flashlights are accessible.
- Have a stocked first-aid kit and make the child is aware of its location.
- Have a well-stocked cupboard and refrigerator so the child has easy access to snacks and/or meals.
- Lock up any items children should not access such as liquor, medications, car keys and cigarettes.
- Have an extra house key made and store it in a secure location outside so the child can access it if he or she is locked out.
Preparing Your Children to be Home Alone
Once you have determined that your children are ready to stay home alone, the following suggestions may help you to prepare your child and to feel more comfortable about leaving him or her home alone:
Have a trial period. Leave the child home alone for a short time while staying close to home. This is a good way to see how he or she will manage.
Role play. Act out possible situations to help your child learn what to do, such as how to manage visitors who come to the door or how to answer phone calls in a way that doesn’t reveal that a parent is not at home.
Establish rules. Make sure your child knows what is (and is not) allowed when you are not home. Set clear limits on the use of television, computers and other electronic devices, and the Internet. Some experts suggest making a list of chores or other tasks to keep children busy while you are gone.
Discuss emergencies. What does the child consider an emergency? What does the parent consider an emergency? Have a code word that the parent and child can use in the event of any emergency.
Check in. Call your child while you are away to see how it’s going, or let them know they’ll have a trusted neighbor or friend check in on them.
Talk about it. Encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you about staying home alone. Have this conversation before leaving your child and then, when you return, talk with your child about his or her experiences and feelings while you were away. This is particularly important when your child is first beginning to stay home alone, but a quick check-in is always helpful after being away.
Don’t overdo it. Even a mature, responsible child shouldn’t be 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.
Follow up. After a child is left home alone, talk about his or her experience. How did he or she feel about it? Was your child nervous? Did anything unexpected come up? If the child was watching a younger sibling, ask how he or she felt about doing so.
As cell phones are more widely used as the primary method of contact, landlines are becoming rarer. If your house does not have a landline and your child does not have his or her own cell phone, parents need to consider how their child will be able to communicate in case of an emergency. If you have reliable internet access at home, an iPod, iPad, other tablet, or computer are additional options to consider as means of communication. These often have features such as FaceTime, Messaging, Skype, or similar apps and may allow you to communicate with your child. However, these applications cannot make emergency phone calls to 9-1-1. Another option is to get your child an inexpensive mobile phone to use while they are alone. Many retail outlets offer inexpensive phones with limited features, sometimes called a “dumb phone,” that could be a good fit for this purpose. Your choice will differ depending on your circumstances, but the importance of having reliable communication cannot be overstated.
Thanks to current technology, including video doorbells and video monitoring systems, it can be easier and safer to allow children to be home alone. Many companies now offer versions of the video doorbell, which alerts users when someone has approached the front door and/or rang the doorbell and allows them to see who it is via a cell phone. This can help parents alert children to any visitors and decide whether it is safe for the children to answer the door. In the same way, video monitoring systems can alert parents should someone enter or leave the house. Keep in mind that these systems are merely backups.
As a working parent, you can’t always be sure that you will be able to monitor a doorbell or video alert. Equipping your children with the tools and knowledge to keep themselves safe while you are away is the best solution.
Parents should also note that even mature and responsible children should not be left alone too often or for too long. It can become a strain and put them in a situation where they become lonely. Consider other options, such as after-school programs, community centers or the option to stay with friends to help keep the child involved, if those options are available in your area.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau: childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/homealone.pdf
Utilize UW CareLink. Did you know that UW CareLink, our employee assistance program is a free, confidential service for you and your household family members that can take on your to-do list and provide you with the amount of time necessary to manage the changes around you? Examples of services include:
- Personalized concierge resources including child-, elder- and pet-care solutions, transportation and local errand resources, low-cost home repair and utility assistance, etc.
- Telephonic appointments with EAP attorneys and financial planners to assist with personal legal matters and financial issues that may have arisen during your time away from the workplace.
- Confidential guidance from a local counselor to provide stress management assistance during the time of transition.
To find more UW CareLink return-to-work resources, visit the Guidance Resources COVID- 19 resources webpage. Use “UW” as the organization code for first-time registrations.