By Sarah Lyons
Giving kids the responsibility to stay home alone can be a positive and confidence building experience, a rite of passage. Every parent will reach the point where they are faced with the decision over whether or not their child is ready to stay home alone. How do you know they are ready? Children must have the skills and maturity to handle being on their own safely.
There is no magical age that determines a child is ready to be home alone, but kids who are ready show the following signs:
• Desires to stay home alone and is not fearful being alone in the home
• Exhibits good decision-making
• Shows that he is aware of others and his surroundings
• Proves herself 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 themselves
• Knows how to use a phone, call a neighbor for help, and dial 911
• Follows simple rules and instructions
• Knows basic first aid
Leaving kids home alone for the first time is a big step. Even if kids are not planning to babysit, consider enrolling them in a babysitting class because the skills taught there can be very useful for kids who are beginning to stay home alone.
If you believe your child is ready, how can parents prepare them for success?
• Go over the rules – Are friends allowed to come over? Is the child allowed to leave the house? Are there cable channels the child is not permitted to watch? Go over these and any other family rules and make it clear that your child understands.
• Discuss possible situations – If someone comes to the door, what is the child to do? If the phone rings, is the child to answer? How will they respond if someone asks to speak to the parent? “She is busy right now. Can I take a message?” is a good response.
• Kitchen safety – Make sure the child knows how to use kitchen appliances and tools and discuss what they are allowed to make in the kitchen. Only cold snacks? Can they use the microwave?
• Emergency preparedness – Does your child know what to do in case of smoke or a fire? What should he do if there are severe storms? Does she know basic first aid? Post emergency phone numbers and contact information so your child has them in case of an emergency. Discuss who to contact if parents are unreachable (a neighbor, family member or friend).
• Create a list of “Dos” and “Don’ts” – Don’t play with matches or lighters. Don’t let anyone in the house. Don’t leave the house, except in an emergency situation. Do call and check in when you get home from school. Do work on homework and chores. Each family is different and will have its own list of what is expected.
• Role play – Act out different scenarios that may arise. Pretend that the child needs to reach you; what will they do? How would they call 911? What would they do in case of a fire? Pretend the phone rings; how will they answer? By walking through different situations, kids will be better prepared if the unexpected happens.
• Start slow – Begin by leaving the child for a short 15-30 minutes at a time and slowly increase. Talk about any questions or problems that may have arisen. Ask your child about their feelings when home alone. If the child is fearful, they may not be ready to be on their own.
Sarah Lyons is a freelance writer living in the Midwest.