Is Your Child Ready to Be Home Alone?
"Is my child ready to be home alone?" Many parents answer this question simply by looking at a child's age or maturity but really need to consider both.
There is an unwritten, unspoken "law" among social service and law enforcement professionals that no child nine-years-old or younger should be left home alone - no matter how mature. Older children who are immature or irresponsible should also not be home alone.
By the age of eight, parents need to be teaching children skills in responsibility and independence. These skills make parenting easier, and children misbehave less, make more responsible decisions, and are more resourceful in solving problems they face when alone.
To prepare children for being home alone, teach them:
*Basic first aid
*When and how to call 9-1-1
*What to do in case of an emergency (familiarize them with the list or emergency contacts)
*What to do if there is a fire/small kitchen fire
*How to lock and unlock doors and windows
*How to properly use the phone/cell phone
*How to fix meals and use the stove/microwave
*What to do if the smoke alarm goes off
*How to handle severe weather
*What to do if there is a power outage
*The house rules (and see they have a track record of following them!)
No visitors. It's too tempting to experiment when a peer is present. Also, absent parents may be held legally liable if something should happen in their home, even in their absence.
Depending on the neighborhood, children should stay inside. At the least, encourage them to stay on their own property where they have access to a phone to communicate with parents. If older children (13+) are allowed to go places, they should let the parent know where they will be. Parents also want to be sure there will be adult supervision and have a contact number to reach the child and/or a cell phone for the child.
Discuss rules around cell phone/phone usage.
Keep doors and windows locked, depending on the weather/climate, air conditioning and neighborhood safeness.
Teach children what to do if someone comes to the door and what to do if it is a stranger. Not answering is the best policy. Children should also have a way to watch what the stranger does. If he/she acts suspiciously, the child may opt to call the police.
No cooking on the stove until they are experienced cooks.
Obvious things like no smoking, drinking or girlfriends/boyfriends.
Once the child has the skills to be alone, start with short periods of absence (ten minutes). Gradually increase the time as you and your child feel more comfortable.
If children act irresponsibly or are unwilling to follow these rules, they need to have a sitter for a brief period. Then give them another chance to show they can be home alone safely.
Get a printable version of our Home Alone Checklist and Reminders here!
Jody Johnston Pawel is a Licensed Social Worker and Certified Family Life Educator. She is the author of 100+ parent education resources, including her award-winning book, The Parent's Toolshop.