When Can You Leave Your Child Home Alone?
Read this article for tips to help you decide when it's best to leave your child home alone.
It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to know you don’t leave a 3-year-old home alone or let a kindergartener become a latchkey kid. It also stands to reason that any parent should be able to leave the average 13-year-old home alone.
But what about kids in the middle? How do you know when the best time to leave them home alone is? We share some tips for helping you decide.
Is there a rule of thumb about the best time to leave your child home alone?
Most mums say that when a child reaches double digits they are ready to be trusted at home alone for short periods of time.
A 10-year-old should be able to stay home long enough for Mum and Dad to catch a movie or ‘man the fort’ while Mum is at the grocery store.
Once a child reaches 11 or 12, they can be expected to come home each day after school, and take it upon themselves to complete any homework they may have, let the dog out, fix a snack and hang out until Dad and Mum get home from work.
If children this age don’t want to tag along for an older or younger sibling’s soccer game or swim meet, they should be deemed responsible enough to stay home and do their own thing.
Leaving your child home alone: Exceptions to the rule
Younger children can be allowed to be home without a parent if older siblings (age 13 and up) are there to supervise. NOTE: Supervise is the operative word here — the older sibling needs to know and accept that he is responsible for his younger sibling.
It would be important to note that children under the age of 15 or 16 with emotional or physical limitations that require medication (but do not require assistance to complete basic tasks) should not be left alone — unless the circumstances are unavoidable or if it is on an occasional basis.
What you should expect when you leave your child home alone
When making the decision to leave your child home alone, make sure she is comfortable with being on her own. Some children are afraid of staying alone, so don’t force the issue.
However, once you’re all on the same team, so to speak, it is important to set the following guidelines:
1. Have a check-in system.
If your child is coming home to an empty house after school, make it a priority that the two of you talk as soon as they walk in the door. This way you’ll know they are where they are supposed to be, plus home won’t seem so empty to them.
2. Post emergency numbers in plain sight.
Included in these numbers should be the number of a friend or neighbour your child can call in non-emergencies if they need assistance.
3. Have a plan for what to do.
Talk with your child about what he should do in the event someone comes to the door, or he gets hurt, or you will be home later than usual. Teach him how to take phone messages, and what to do if he locks himself out of the house.
4. Establish rules.
Rules should be set for what food can be cooked (if necessary), having friends over (or not), internet usage, doing homework, household chores and playing outdoors or at a neighbour’s house — among other things.
5. Have them do chores.
Keeping your child busy with chores they can safely accomplish and other busy work will make the time pass quickly and help avoid boredom. Remember, boredom is usually what leads to mischief and mishaps.
6. First aid is important.
Make sure your child knows basic first aid. Knowing how to clean a cut, when a cut needs more attention, what to do in case they burn themselves or fall is essential.
How to decide when to leave your child home alone
If you’re still unsure as to whether or not your child (and you, for that matter) are ready to be left home alone, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your child act responsibly on a regular basis? If so, there’s no need to think they wouldn’t when unattended. But if they have problems when you are home, those problems will likely get bigger when you are away.
- Is your child full of mischief? You know what they say: ‘When the cat’s away the mice will play.’ Think long and hard about this one when you’re deciding on leaving your child home alone.
- Does your child display a calm demeanour in unfamiliar situations or do they tend to panic easily? Being home alone will possibly require them to be problem-solvers. Will they panic or will they remain calm?
- Does your child understand and respect rules regarding strangers? This is a must!
When to leave your child home alone: A big decision indeed
There’s no doubt about it — leaving your child home alone is a huge decision and one that needs careful consideration. It’s another step in allowing them to grow into the individuals you want them to be: independent, responsible and mature… so make sure you’re both ready.
When do you think is the best time to leave your child home alone? Share your views with us by leaving a comment!