Staying home alone is a milestone in a child’s development that rewards their growing sense of responsibility and helps them build confidence. These are some signs a parent can look for to determine if your child is ready to take care of themselves for short time periods, along with steps for getting your child and house ready.
Deciding If Your Child Is Ready To Stay Home Alone
- Know your local laws. Kids develop at their own individual pace so legal restrictions are just part of the picture. Many experts suggest that ages 10 to 12 is a typical threshold period for starting self-care. Your local police department or Child Protective Services agency can advise you on the laws for your jurisdiction.
- Determine if your child is willing. Ensure your child wants to stay on their own. Otherwise, the experience can backfire and create more fears and anxieties.
- Examine your child’s track record. Look for evidence of taking responsibility and demonstrating sound judgment. Does your child get himself ready for school? Is his homework consistently done on time with minimal supervision?
Steps To Take With Your Child
- Test it out first. Build up to leaving a child alone for longer stretches. Start out with quick visits to a neighbor or trips to a local store. Discuss any issues that arise. Praise them for managing on their own and looking after the house.
- Rehearse difficult scenarios. Train your child on how to answer the phone and door when no adult is present. Get together and role play about how to call 911 and respond to other emergencies.
- Discuss all the rules. People of all ages are more likely to obey rules when they participate in making them and buy into the reasoning behind them. Many kids also need occasional reminders about anything that occurs infrequently.
- Schedule check ins. Create the feeling of supervision. Ask a neighbor to check in while you’re out. Require your child to call you when they arrive home or if they plan on going out.
- Develop a guest policy. Ban all guests if you think that’s safest. Otherwise you may want to specify which individuals are allowed over and limit the number at any one time.
- Plan activities. Boredom can lead to trouble. Give your kids something to do, so, for example, they’ll play a board game instead of making prank phone calls.
Steps To Take With Your House
- Post emergency numbers. Stick a list of important contacts on the refrigerator door and by each phone. Include the police and fire departments, your family doctor and your own numbers.
- Limit internet access. Some parents prefer to shut down internet access completely. In any case, talk with your kids about staying safe online and remaining alert to their surroundings.
- Provide safe snacks and meals. Put the stove off limits to younger kids. Leave them with food that’s ready to eat or can just be heated in the microwave.
- Remove hazards. Double check that matches and prescription drugs are out of reach. Get rid of any toxic products that you’re unlikely to use.
- Secure all windows and doors. Check that everything is locked, including the garage. Give a spare key to a neighbor in case your child loses their own. Teach kids to go to a neighbor’s house and call the police if they see a broken window or other signs of a possible break-in.
Work schedules and other obligations make child care challenging for many families. If your kids are ready to stay home alone, taking care of themselves can be a great solution that encourages a healthy sense of independence. Otherwise, provide adult supervision until your family is prepared for this big step.