"They're old enough." "No, they're not!" "They're ready." "No, they're not!" "This is the year." "No! It's not!"
This is the time of year when a lot of working parents wander around arguing with . . . themselves. Is this the summer when your children will insist (once again) that they're old enough to stay home alone -- and you'll give in?
If you're spending hours every day arguing with yourself about this question, here are some questions you might ask yourself instead:
* Can your child amuse himself for several hours at a time without watching TV, getting into trouble, or having you or other children nearby?
* Is your neighborhood safe? Would your child be safe playing in your yard or in a neighbor's yard? Does she have friends nearby? Would you feel comfortable if she invited them into the house while you're away?
* Is your child basically level-headed and responsible? Does he/she usually obey the rules? Can you count on her?
If your child panics easily and rebels often, he/she shouldn't be left home alone. Period.
* Are you prepared to set firm rules and check regularly (with telephone calls, surprise visits and perhaps a friend who's willing to "pop in" occasionally) to be sure that your child is obeying your rules? Are you also prepared to consistently dish out consequences if the rules are broken?
* Is your child reasonably self-confident and assertive, or timid and easily frightened? Would she be able to "just say no" to a stranger's advances -- or a neighbor's or relative's?
* Is there a relative or neighbor nearby who could take over in an emergency? Is your child comfortable in general about asking for help? Would she be likely to call for help right away in an emergency?
* Has she spent time alone at home before? After school? On weekends? At least as many consecutive hours as she would be on her own this summer? Did she behave herself, obey the rules? Was she relaxed when you came home? Or did she seem tense, irritable or anxious?
* Finally, how do you feel about leaving your child on her own this summer? No one knows your child better than you, and if you feel anxious and unsure whenever you think about leaving her home alone this summer, the person to listen to is you.
If you don't believe your child is ready, you have an obligation to make other arrangements -- even if your child is furious with you.
We'll review options for summer child care next time.