. Learning Responsibility - Manitoba Parent Zone | Healthy Child Manitoba
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Middle Years Children - Behaviour

Learning Responsibility

Working together as a family means everyone helps out – young or old, big or small. It's a good idea to give your children some responsibility around the house. How you decide to divide or delegate chores doesn't really matter. What does matter is that your child knows he is responsible for those chores and that they must be completed by a certain time. As well, you should let your child know what the consequences are for not being responsible for his chores.

Middle years children may still need some guidance on performing their chores to the best of their ability. Try to not nag or hover when he is drying dishes. Always thank him and give him praise for a job well done. If there are things he could do better next time, let him know in a positive, gentle way.

If your child earns her own money, it is a great time to discuss financial responsibility. Talk to your child about the basics of both saving and spending. You might want to open a savings account at your local bank or credit union for your child (it's a good idea to have your name on the account as well). You might want to make a rule that your child must save a percentage of all the money she earns or receives. Many children at this age are interested in having their own money to spend as they wish. It's never too early to discuss the value of money, the importance of saving and living within one's means. This might also be the perfect time to discuss materialism, self-esteem and the importance of loving yourself for your actions, words and behaviours – not the items you own.

Some children are given an allowance to help them learn financial responsibility. Other children are given an allowance for doing chores around the house. If you chose to give your child an allowance, it is a good idea to make sure he knows why he is getting an allowance and what he must do in order to receive it. If he does not do his chores or isn't financially responsible, he should be given a consequence for not meeting his side of the bargain.

Another huge responsibility in the middle years is homework. Setting aside a specific time and place to do homework every day is a good idea, preferably a time when your child isn't hungry, tired or distracted. The space she uses to do her homework should also be clear from distractions, especially television, so she can focus on her work. It's also a good idea to encourage your child to use a day planner or calendar so he can keep track of assignments and upcoming tests. Show your child how he can plan ahead and work on big assignments in smaller chunks of time, rather than waiting until the night before an assignment is due.

Your child may begin asking if he can walk to his friend's house by himself or your daughter might ask if she can go to a store by herself. Many parents struggle with this – at what age is he old enough to walk down the block to a friend's house? Can I run downstairs and put a load of laundry in while the kids are unsupervised in the backyard?

Manitoba law states that children under 12 may be in need of protection if they are left unattended and without reasonable provision being made for the supervision and safety of the child; this means that if Child and Family Services is called, they must respond to and assess the situation in which your child was left unsupervised. Child and Family Services may respond by phoning you, leaving your child in your home, activating your child's safety plan, or removing your child until a caregiver is located. Before Child and Family Services responds, it takes into account the maturity of the child, the length of time the child will be alone, if the child is responsible for other children, and how quickly the safety plan can be implemented, in addition to other factors.

If you are thinking, "safety plan?" – you aren't alone. Many families have safety plans in place but not all do. Even if you never intend to leave your child home alone or unsupervised, a safety plan can be very useful in emergency situations. A safety plan should include who your child can go to if there is an emergency when you are unable – for whatever reason – to help him. Many families have fire safety plans and this is similar: where to go, who to call for help, as well as having a secret family safe word.

It is very important that your child knows the safety plan. She should feel comfortable getting to the safe person – perhaps a neighbour – and being with the person until help or another caregiver arrives. But sometimes even the best safety plans can fail – the safe person becomes ill or a cell phone battery dies – so having a back-up plan is best.

It can be hard to understand the sometimes conflicting messages we receive about leaving our children alone or unsupervised. For example, 11-year-olds can take babysitting courses, so many parents think it is okay to have an 11-year-old home alone when, in fact, by law they need to be 12 years old. And even then, some 12-year-olds aren't ready for that much responsibility.

At age 12, your middle years child is now legally old enough in Manitoba to stay at home by himself or care for younger children or siblings. However, the decision to allow your child to stay home alone or care for other children is up to you. Some 12-year-olds are ready to be alone for short periods of time but others may not be ready. That's okay. There are some things you can do to see if your child is ready to stay home alone or walk to school or the park by himself. Ask your child "what if" questions to see what her response would be in the event of an emergency or if a difficult situation arises. Ask further questions about her response and discuss these answers to see if she is able to make healthy, safe choices. It is also a good idea to practice assertiveness skills with your child. Make sure he is comfortable saying "No" to friends and adults and is able to follow the rules, even when the temptation to break them may be great.

Babysitting courses and courses on staying home alone are available which teach children how to deal with common issues. Check with your local library, community centre, YMCA or other organizations to find a course near you. If your child will be caring for younger siblings, it is important to talk to all of your children and let them know that your middle years child is in charge when you are gone. Whether your child is at home by himself or taking care of siblings, go over the rules and ensure everyone knows what to do in case there is an emergency. It's a good idea to leave a list of emergency numbers on the fridge.

You may want to give your older middle years child a key to the house. If your 12-year-old will be at home by herself, you'll want to decide if she'll have a key or if one will be hidden in the yard for her to use. If you decide to give one to your child, it's best not to put your address or other identifying information on the key because it could get lost.

Some parents might ask their child to phone them when the child gets home from school or an activity. This is a great idea as it will reduce your anxiety or worry about your child getting home safely. Your child should also be aware of friendly neighbours she can call upon if there is an emergency; memorizing all emergency contact numbers is a great idea too.

As your child is also adjusting to being home alone for short periods of time, you might have to discuss new rules in the house. For example, if your daughter will be home for an hour before and after school by herself and she usually has a meal or snack at this time, you might want to tell her she is not allowed to use the stove or oven or she cannot have friends in the house when you are not home. You can't possibly prepare for everything that might happen when your child is alone, but you can cover the basics, including:

  • when and how to answer the phone or the door,
  • what to do and who to call if there is an emergency,
  • what to do if she is locked out of the house, and
  • what to do if friends want to come over.