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The walls are closing in on you. It’s hard to catch your breath. You have GOT to get out of the house. But you can hardly afford your favorite half-caf double vanilla latte with a dusting of cinnamon at the local coffee shop let alone a babysitter to watch over your precious little darlings. Your oldest should be ready to babysit his siblings by now, right?
Well, it turns out that there are a few qualities your kid needs to have before you put them in charge of their siblings when you aren’t around.
AGE AND INDEPENDENCE
The first thing to do is assess whether the teen in charge is old enough to handle the responsibility. From a developmental perspective, kids begin to demonstrate higher order cognitive processing abilities around the age of twelve. They will need these skills to deal with the issues they encounter while looking after their siblings as well as to respond effectively to any emergencies that may arise. At this age (ages eleven to thirteen), parents can reasonably leave their kid in charge for three to four hours in a familiar environment like the home. Early teens (thirteen to sixteen years old) can reasonably be left in charge for periods of six to eight hours—although overnight is unwise. Older teens (age seventeen and above) are capable of managing many of the issues (and emergencies) that might arise if they are left in charge for a full day and night. In all these instances, it is important to consider your teen’s particular level of emotional and intellectual maturity.
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Age differences between your kids is another factor to consider. There probably should be at least two years difference between the teen in charge and their next younger sibling to minimize the likelihood of a successful uprising by the oppressed siblings. If the age difference is less than 2 years, your kids need to get along particularly well before you consider leaving the older sibling in charge. Kids who are six or younger should not be left in the daily care of a teen under the age of sixteen. Finally, the ratio of siblings to teen-in-charge should not exceed 2:1. Three siblings (or more!) to one teen in charge is an invitation to disaster.
Kids can drive large, competent and relatively psychologically healthy adults to the brink of insanity. A teenager who is going to watch their siblings needs to be relatively level-headed in the presence of provocation, intense emotions and potential crisis. A hot-headed sibling is an easy target for siblings to play “let’s get Suzy to blow her stack.” And then there is the running and the screaming and the carnage (and that’s just you when you get back home to deal with them).