Is Your Preteen Ready to Stay Home Alone or to Watch Younger Siblings?
Getting Your Preteen Ready for Babysitting
Some children have the maturity to start babysitting as early as age 12 or 13. Others are better off waiting until they're older teenagers.
Before you let your tween babysit, demand the same qualifications that you would from any babysitter you are considering hiring. Any prospective babysitter needs to be:
- Able to make good decisions
- Able to follow the rules
- Comfortable handling authority without abusing it
- Able to calmly handle any emergency or other problems that arise
Preteens can learn some of these skills, along with first aid and CPR, by taking a babysitting class. Check with your local chapter of the American Red Cross or YMCA for babysitting classes in your area.
Consider having the tween be a mother’s or father’s helper. This will allow you to supervise while the tween learns how to care for the child.
Getting Your Home Ready for Your Tween
Make your house as tween-friendly as possible so you don't have to worry as much about leaving your child alone or in charge of a younger sibling when you go out.
For example, make a list of emergency phone numbers that includes:
- Your cell phone
- Family members who live nearby
- Your pediatrician
- Poison control
- The local police and fire departments
- Panic button on the alarm system
- 911 (It sounds like a no-brainer, but a panicked kid can forget those three numbers.)
Other suggestions include:
- Discuss what to do in case of an emergency, such as a fire, power outage, or severe weather.
- Keep a first-aid kit stocked with bandages, wound disinfectant, and other supplies, and teach your tween how to use it.
- Check to see that all smoke detectors and phones in your house are working.
- Leave flashlights and fire extinguishers in easy-to-find places. Teach your tween when and how to use the fire extinguisher.
- Stock the fridge with enough healthy foods and snacks to hold your tween until you get back. No-heat foods are easier to prepare. If some cooking is needed, show your child how to use the microwave, stove, and other necessary appliances.
- Make sure you've set up parental filters on your TV and computer.
- Hide anything you don't want to end up in your tween's hands. That includes prescription medications, alcohol, guns, tobacco, and lighters.
A Trial Run
Before you let your tween stay home alone or babysit, talk through or role-play several different scenarios, such as:
- "A stranger is ringing the doorbell. What do you do?"
- "The fire alarm is going off. What do you do?"
- "The power goes off. What do you do?"
- "Your sister is throwing a temper tantrum. What do you do?"
Keep your first outing short -- about 30 minutes to an hour. When you get back, go over with your tween how things went at home. Talk about any problems or concerns that arose. If the run-through went well, gradually increase the amount of time you're away.
Whenever you are out, make sure you're easily accessible on your cell phone. Also, call in regularly to make sure things are going smoothly at home.