How can you be at home when you are not? This may sound like a riddle, but it isn't. When outside commitments, particularly jobs, pull parents away, a child is often left at home alone. School's out for the day, or for the summer, but you still have to be at your job during the day. Unless you can afford additional child care, you have to find ways to supervise your child when you are gone from home.
The time between the end of the school day and when parents arrive home can give a child left alone plenty of opportunities to get into trouble. It's not that this freedom is so pleasurable that the child gets into trouble. In most cases, trouble occurs because the opposite is true. This weekday freedom can be painful. It can be even more painful during long vacations.
Too Much Time Alone?
How can freedom be painful? The answer is boredom. The problem with too much time alone is boredom — the child has more freedom than she knows how to fill. Having “nothing to do” creates a serious state of discomfort for many children. This discomfort is a kind of loneliness stemming from not being able to entertain or accompany oneself in a satisfying way. “I don't know what to do with myself!”
Boredom is painful for a child because boredom feels lonely. The child is at a loss for how to connect with himself in a satisfying way. “I hate being bored!” “I hate having nothing to do!” These are true statements about true pain. It is to escape the pain of boredom that many children turn to trouble. Boredom is a staging area for trouble where children play follow-the-leader with impulse to find something to fill the void of emptiness they feel.
If you don't set some terms of safety and responsibility for keeping your child directed when you are away and he or she is home alone, your child will set his or her own terms, which may not be to your liking. “Home alone” is freedom that requires supervision.
Increasing Parental Presence
The danger of protracted boredom is stated strongly here to give parents warning. Don't leave your children at home alone with nothing to do. Create a supervisory parental presence for your child when you can't be there with him. After school before you get home, on the weekend, over vacation — whenever your child is left at home alone — give him some things to do that not only keep him busy, but that also remind him that he is still accountable to you for his behavior. Give him:
A schedule to follow.
Activities to engage his interest.
Tasks that you approve and he enjoys.
Some household chores to accomplish.
Personal work requirements, like homework, to get done.
Specific times to communicate with you.
Specific times to expect communication from you.
For safety's sake, telling the child what to do is as important as telling the child what not to do (no friends over without a parent there, no cooking, for example). Posting the requirements, rules, and schedule for time home alone is a good idea. The poster represents the parental presence. Obviously, when your child uses this alone time well, you want to praise this show of responsibility.