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Family Almanac: Raising a responsible child

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Q. I didn’t know what to say when our wonderful, bright, respon­sible daughter asked whether she could let herself into the house after school so she could get her own snack and start her homework while her babysitter picked up our 5-year-old son from the bus stop and cared for our 1-year-old daughter.

My gut tells me that she is ready to stay alone because she is almost 11 and is a level-headed kid. She gets herself up and dressed each day, makes her own lunch, walks home after school, completes her homework and practices her instrument, and she does all of these things well and without any prompting from me or her dad. She also takes advanced classes at school — she’s a terrific student — and is involved in sports, but she doesn’t watch television during the week and she doesn’t watch much of it on the weekend, either, because she loves to read so much.

For all of these reasons, I think that my daughter deserves some time to work quietly without the distraction of her siblings. This would reinforce the faith we have in her and the trust she has earned, and this could foster the independence that she’ll need next year in middle school.

Her request presents a conundrum for us, however, because she will be home alone for 45 minutes. This makes me nervous even though I would have her call me when she got home and call a neighbor if she needed help with anything. We wouldn’t let her use the stove or the microwave or let her friends come over if she was alone. If she did one of these things, she would lose the right to stay home by herself.

Despite these rules, I’m still torn. Although I want my kids to take on responsibility, I can’t help feeling that 10 is a little young for my daughter to be home alone. What do you think?

A. Listen to your gut. Some 10-year-olds aren’t mature enough to be home alone, even for 45 minutes, but your little girl is getting to be a big girl and she proves it to you every day.

Your daughter makes her lunch, does her homework and practices her music not because you remind her to do these things, but because you don’t remind her. The parent who nags her child to do a chore is subliminally telling her that she isn’t smart enough to remember, but the parent who bites her tongue and says nothing is telling her child that she trusts her to do it.

Your daughter has probably forgotten her lunch or her homework occasionally, but paying the consequences has helped her remember them the next time.

There also may have been times when you let your daughter do too much too soon and then had to change your mind, but it’s better to let a child do whatever you think she can do rather than hold her back. When parents let their children be responsible for themselves, their children are much more likely to be responsible adults.

There are a thousand ways that your daughter can be even more responsible than she is, but try to connect them to her interests and her talents whenever you can. A child with an artistic eye will find family parties more fun if she can arrange the flowers rather than wash the lettuce. Whatever she does, the job should be interesting so she will want to do it again.

But don’t limit such a job to your 10-year-old. A child who takes pride in her work when she’s young will take pride in her work for the rest of her life.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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