When you imagine your child being alone in the house, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Complete chaos? Utter destruction?
It’s okay to have these first initial feelings when trying to decide whether or not your child is okay to be left alone in the house, especially when you haven’t done it before. But there comes a point in every child’s life when they are old enough to stick it out at home alone—you just have to decide when that is. Here are some tips for deciding when it is OK for kids to be left home alone.
Age Guidelines For Leaving Your Child Home Alone
- children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
- children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight
- babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
How to Decide When Your Child Can Be Left Home Alone
Of course, it’s pretty easy to tell that a four year old shouldn’t stay home alone, and that a fifteen year old probably has it under control. But for those kiddos in the middle, it can be a tricky. So, let’s decide.
Talk with them first. Let them know that this is a strong possibility of happening – you have a meeting you have to be at, your babysitter cancelled plans, etc.—and ask how they feel about that. See how they react.
Take note on how responsible they are. Do they follow the chores you ask them to do? How are they with their school work? With siblings, or friends?
Does your child know safety precautions, and what to do in case of an emergency?
If you feel pretty confident answering these questions positively, then chances are you’re heading in the right direction. Now, let’s consider the surrounding area.
Do you know your neighbors well, and would they be able to help your child if an emergency arose?
Do you live in a quiet neighborhood, or a busy street?
Has there been any crime in the area you live?
There are different ways of handling these situations depending on your answers. But here are a few:
Your child should know how to dial 911 if an emergency arises.
Your child should not answer the door to any strangers—let them and the person you’re expecting to come by that this is a rule. If a family member or friend is expected to come to the house while they are home alone, have that person call the house and tell your child that they’ll be there shortly.
Create a list of rules for your child while you’re away:
TV, or internet guidelines
Whether or not they are allowed to have friends over
Not announcing that they are home alone
Kitchen rules (no oven, stove, etc.)
Once you’ve established the rules, and instructing safety precautions, give it a test run! Go on a quick errand, and see how they are while you are away. Talk about it when you get back, and see how they feel about it.
You want your child to feel safe and independent, while making the right choices. Sometimes leaving children home alone can cause them stress and anxiety; make sure to talk this over with them if you feel like this might be an issue. Talk with and understand their feelings, let them know it’s okay for them to feel scared, but that the two of you will come up with a solution, and will make it work. Make sure to comfort your child when he/she is feeling anxious or worried. By doing this, you’re showing them that you truly care about the way they are feeling, and that they are safe and cared for.
Even if you’ve decided that your child will be safe while you’re away, talk with your child to make sure this is what he/she is ready for. If you both are on the same page, then you can feel more confident in your decision making.
Guest post by Naomi Broderick who is a professional writer and mother. When she’s not parenting her three children she writes for ProtectYourHome.com, a leader in home security.