When is it okay for your child to be Home Alone?

Now that Summer is fast approaching it is the opportune time to review these questions with your child:

  1. Is your child mature enough to be home alone? Age in years and age in maturity are very different things. A child who does not know how to respond to a knock at the door, or one who forgets to lock the door, is not ready to be left alone.
  2. Can your child handle fear, loneliness, and boredom?  These are some of the things kids face when they are home by themselves.
  3. Is there a responsible adult nearby – a relative or neighbor – who your child can call for assistance?  Even if you work nearby, there may be times when you will not be available.  Who can your child turn to then?
  4. Does your child know emergency procedures? Have you reviewed fire escape routes? Is there a first aid kid available, and does your child know how to use it?  Role-play with your child – pretend there is an emergency and see your child’s responds.
  5. Does your child perform everyday tasks such as fixing a snack, using a phone, and writing messages?  These are necessary skills.
  6. Does your child regularly solve small problems without assistance, knowing when it’s okay to ask for help?  If your child arrived home to find the front door open, or a window broken, what would be the result?
  7. Are there siblings who will also be home? Does your child manage conflicts with/among siblings without adult help? The best way to answer this question is to watch your child with siblings. If your child doesn’t manage well when you’re home, most likely the situation will not improve when you’re away.
  8. Is your child comfortable with the idea of staying alone? Ask! If the answer is no, or if they appear hesitant, then it is definitely not a good idea.  A child must feel confident about being alone and self-sufficient for the time you are away.

If you – and your child – are confident that the time is right, try leaving your child for short periods of time to test the results.  Call it an “experiment.”  First, make sure that these elements are in place.

  • There should be a basic agreement – a contract of sorts – between you and your child about what is expected when you are away, with clear rules as to what is off-limits.
  • Make a thorough check of your home for safety risks – access to kitchen appliances (especially gas), alcoholic beverages, firearms, bodies of water. Remove the risks!
  • Make certain your child has every key necessary to get into the house, with a plan for what to do if the keys are lost.
  • All necessary information should be kept close by – your home address, emergency numbers, your contact information, neighbor’s or relatives’ phone numbers.

Afterwards, discuss your experiment – did each person feel comfortable? If you still have concerns, contact a trusted professional to help you address your concerns.  Try the experiment again when everyone feels more comfortable and confident.

It is not recommended to leave any child under the age of 18 alone overnight.

Safety Hints: Source: North American Missing Children Association; Latch Keys Kids.


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