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When to switch children from day care to self-care

I recently overheard a conversation between two parents deciding if their children were old enough to stay home alone this summer while they worked.

There are both risks and opportunities associated with self-care. Parents need to carefully decide whether self-care is appropriate for their children.

Most parents are aware of threats from accidents, fire or harm from strangers and make special efforts to deal with them. But what about a child's emotional well-being?

Children in self-care must deal with feelings of loneliness, boredom, fear, rejection and insecurity. The increased responsibility for chores and caring for younger siblings may be more than a child is ready to handle.

When parents invest time and energy to make the right decision about self-care for their children, the potential benefits increase. Children can gain an increased sense of self-confidence, responsibility and independence.

North Dakota does not have a law which provides an age when children can be left alone.

However, guidelines have been developed by the Department of Human Services and are used by county social service agencies in our state.

Children left home alone should be able to demonstrate knowledge of where their parents are, how to reach them and the length of time caregivers will be absent. Children should also know emergency procedures and arrangements for emergency situations.

The age of the child is not the only factor that should be considered when children are left alone.

Other factors include: the maturity of the child, emotional health factors, child's physical or mental limitations, length of time alone, time of day or night, other children present to be supervised, location and environmental conditions, frequency of being left alone and the accessibility of a parent or other adult. Ask your child how she/he feels about the situation. And, can your child say no to peer pressure if friends encourage the child to break rules in your absence?

The summer can be long for children who stay home alone.

Consider day camps, overnight camps, park and recreation activities, etc. to break up the time. Our Extension Office has information on a variety of camps for youth. Please contact us for more information.

For more information on this topic, including more specific age guidelines for self-care, contact Eunice Sahr, Extension Agent, Stutsman County Extension Service. She may be reached at 252-9030 or eunice.