A big decision parents have to make is deciding when their children are old enough and mature enough to spend a few hours at home alone. Most experts agree that around the age of 12 is when parents can start considering leaving their kids alone. But there are a lot of factors besides age that parents should consider to decide if their child is ready.
First, you need to decide if your child seems responsible enough to handle different situations. Does he regularly follow rules? Does she seem confident and comfortable to stay home? Does she stay calm with unexpected situations. Does he tell the truth? Can he always be trusted? You should also consider whether your neighborhood is safe, how comfortable you are with your neighbors, and whether those neighbors will they be around if there’s a problem.
Take Good Precautions
Before leaving your children alone make sure they know:
• How to contact you in case of an emergency
• Basic first aid and where to find a first aid kit
• How to answer the telephone, including never allowing the person on the other end to know they are alone
• Where to find emergency numbers (police, fire, ambulance, doctors, poison control, and a neighbor or friend who is close by and in visual distance in case of emergencies). These are best placed on the refrigerator, and/or nearby all phones
• The sound of smoke alarms and escape routes in case of fire
• Where to find a fire extinguisher, how to put out cooking fires, not to throw water on a grease fire (if they’ll be preparing any meals while home alone)
Establish Some Ground Rules
Some ground rules need to be set before allowing kids to stay at home alone:
• Should homework or other chores be completed while they are home alone?
• Are friends allowed over? If so, how many friends? Only same gender friends?
• What websites and tv stations are allowed? (Consider setting parental controls on both.)
• For what, if any, reasons should they answer the door? (It may be safer not to open the door under any circumstances.)
• Are they allowed to use the stove, microwave, toaster, knives? (Consider leaving snacks in the house that do not need to be heated.)
• Have them call you when they first get home from school or plan times to call and check in while away from the home.
Some Final Reminders
When your children will be home alone, leave them an itinerary, so they know where you will be and how to reach you. Consider short dry runs before allowing them to stay home alone for longer periods. It’s safest to leave children alone during daylight hours, and less than 3 hours at a time. Also remember to keep lighters/matches hidden, to lock alcohol and medications, and, if you have them, to lock guns away and keep ammunition separate.
Allowing your child to stay home alone is a tough decision, and it can make parents very nervous. Taking these steps to be prepared can make the situation a little bit easier, and make you and you child feel much more comfortable.
Brianna Rothbauer is a former Kids Plus Provider.