Can ADD 12 Year Old Stay Home Alone?

With a 12-yr old ADD child (the oldest of three siblings, 7-yr girl, 4-yr boy) is it safe for us to allow her to stay at home from 7-8:10 am when she walks to school 1 block away? I find that she has the time to get her chores done in the morning before she leaves but consistently things are not getting done.

Margie

Margie,

Your note asks whether it is safe for your daughter to stay home alone in the morning, and presumably to walk one block to school by herself. You also seem to be asking how to help her complete her chores, which she should have time for but isn’t always finishing.

As you no doubt know very well, kids with ADD have a hard time focusing, especially on unpleasant tasks like chores. ADD kids also can show worse judgment than other kids, just because they are often so easily distracted. And of course, all kids are different.

I can’t really judge your daughter’s safety, because I don’t know her. After school is a time when 12 year olds often get into trouble, but an hour before school seems an unlikely time for the kinds of activities with peers that make after school supervision necessary. I would definitely enforce rules like “no socializing” (she doesn’t need to walk the one block with a friend), and I would monitor whether she gets to school on time. I am also assuming here that she has no history of skipping school, because it would be easy for her to just decide not to go if no one else is around.

I also have a 12 year old daughter and I would feel comfortable leaving her for an hour in the morning alone to walk herself to school. I know that she is safe on her walk to school, and I know that she will securely lock the house. However, I am sure that she would get immersed in a book or emailing and occasionally be late to school, or have to rush out, forgetting something important as she did so, like her musical instrument or lunch. I’m sure she would learn from these experiences, but I’m also sure they would occur, even though she is a very responsible kid. So you may need to set your daughter up with a list, and maybe an alarm that goes off 15 minutes before she needs to leave the house.

If there are chores that really need doing in the morning, you can structure things to give your daughter more support to do them. Lists really help ADD kids, as do rewards and habits. A short list of chores that must be completed first, without any distractions (TV, checking email), followed by the reward of something she likes (breakfast and TV?) might be a routine that encourages her to complete her chores.

However, I would caution you against expecting your daughter to complete a lot of chores when she’s unsupervised. Research on latchkey kids shows that 12 year olds left home without adults always feel a bit bereft. They distract themselves by eating and watching TV. Tackling anything difficult is asking a lot of them, and chores are difficult for all kids. I would probably not ask a twelve year old with ADD to focus on chores (beyond homework) until there was an adult around. Instead, I would focus on helping her to be successful on the real priority: What can she do to get herself out the door to school on time, dressed, prepared, and in a good mood? Most chores can be done after school.

It might help to have an adult stay home with her for a few days, helping her to create a routine and a list, and to master use of an alarm clock to get out the door on time. After being pretty involved on the first day, begin reducing your involvement, and just note the places she runs into problems, so you can help her brainstorm about how to address them.

In closing, I want to say that all kids need to master the self-discipline to handle this kind of challenge. Your daughter will need extra support from you to do so, but it is a great opportunity for her to grow. Just take your cues from her. If the whole thing makes her too anxious, maybe you can back off for a few months, but use the time to work with her in the mornings, setting up a routine and structure that works for her to manage herself. A little structure from adults goes a long way, and any routine that's done faithfully for a month becomes a habit. ADD kids need structure and routines even more than most kids, as you know.

I wish you and your family every blessing. And enjoy your daughter!
Dr. Laura


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