Is Your Child Ready To Stay Home Alone?
How do you know your child is ready?
Giving kids the responsibility to stay home alone can be a positive, confidence-building experience — a rite of passage. But how do you know your child is ready?
How to prepare your child
Go over the rules. Are friends allowed to come over? Is he allowed to leave the house? Are there cable channels he does not have permission to watch? Ensure that your child understands the boundaries you have set.
Discuss possible scenarios. If someone comes to the door, what should the child do? If the phone rings, should she answer? How should she respond if someone on the phone asks to speak to the parent? “She is busy right now. Can I take a message?” is a good response.
Review kitchen safety. Make sure the child knows how to use kitchen appliances and tools correctly, and discuss what he is allowed to make in the kitchen. Only cold snacks? Can he use the microwave?
Prepare for emergencies. Does your child know what to do in case of smoke or a fire? What should she do if there are severe storms? Review basic first aid. Post emergency phone numbers and contact information, and discuss whom to contact if you are unreachable.
Create a list of “dos” and “don’ts.” Each family will have its own list of expectations that may include the following: Don’t play with matches or lighters. Don’t let anyone in the house. Don’t leave the house, except an emergency situation. Do call and check in when you get home from school. Do work on homework and chores.
Role play. Act out different scenarios that may arise. By walking through different situations, your child will be better prepared if the unexpected happens.
Start slow. Begin by leaving the child for 15-30 minutes at a time and slowly increase the length of time. Talk about any questions or problems that may have arisen during your absence. Ask your child about his feelings when he’s home alone. If the child is fearful, he may not be ready to be on his own after all.
One more tip
Leaving kids home alone for the first time is a big step. Even if your child does not plan to babysit, consider enrolling her in a babysitting class. The skills such a class teaches can be very useful for kids who are beginning to stay home by themselves.
Sarah Lyons is a freelance writer.
No magical age determines when a child can handle being home by himself, but kids who are ready for this responsibility show the following signs:
• Wants to stay home alone and is not fearful about it
• Exhibits good decision making
• Shows he is aware of others and his surroundings
• Proves himself to be responsible and trustworthy
• Knows home address and phone number as well as how to get in touch with parents
• Can make a snack for himself
• Knows how to use a phone to call a neighbor for help and dial 911
• Follows simple rules and instructions
• Knows basic first aid