Leaving your child home alone for the first time can be incredibly exciting but also incredibly scary. It's always exciting when children reach new developmental milestones, but leaving children home alone is one milestone that requires a lot of responsibility and trust. While some states have laws dictating how old a child must be to stay home alone like Maryland whose minimum age is 8, or Illinois that has a minimum age of 14 (!!) many states rely on parental discretion to decide when a child is mature enough to be left alone.
No one knows your child better than you do, making you the best judge of when your child can capably stay home alone. Of course, there are some guidelines all parents can follow to ensure their child will not only be safe when home alone, but comfortable and confident as well. Here are a few ways you can determine if your child is ready to stay home alone.
Regardless of how mature your child is, most experts agree that no child should be left home alone for any amount of time if they are under the age of eight, with many suggesting the ideal age is between ten and twelve. Some children may not be comfortable being left home until even older, which is perfectly fine. Parents need to ensure that not only are they comfortable leaving their children home alone, but their children are comfortable being home alone.
Are They Willing?
For many parents, the ability to leave children home alone not only gives the child a sense of responsibility and independence, but it also gives the parent back a bit of freedom as well. Leaving a child home while doing the grocery run or stepping out to the store for some errands without having to bring the children along is a moment many parents eagerly wait for, but it's important that the child is willing to stay home alone. Make sure your child is comfortable being in the house alone and that they aren't afraid. Ensure they are capable of getting themselves their own snack while you're not home and that they know how to get in touch with you should they need anything.
Preparation is Key
Before leaving your child alone for the first time it's important they are fully prepared for anything that may happen. Make sure your child knows all emergency phone numbers for your area including how to correctly use 911 and that they can get help from the neighbor if necessary. Ensure your child knows their address and how to operate the home security system if one is in place. Go over protocols if something should happen when you're not home such as power outages or if there is a door-to-door solicitor.
Although you and your child may both be convinced they are ready to stay home, it's always a good idea to do a trial run before leaving them for any period of time. Allow your child to stay home while you do a quick errand or leave to pick someone up. Ensure their time alone is not too long and you will both be able to judge your comfort level. Your child may have previously felt confident with the idea of being left home alone, but once they were actually by themselves those feelings could have changed. If they are confident you can slowly build up the amount of time you leave them for.
It's important that you set very clear ground rules with your child if you're planning on leaving them home alone. Children should know if they're allowed to have friends over when home alone, and if so are there only certain friends allowed? Have rules about answering the door and the phone and what your child should do in the event that someone rings the doorbell or calls. Have rules about cooking and whether they are allowed to use all the appliances if you're not home, as well as how much screen time is allowed. Setting clear rules for your child will ensure that both of you feel better when your child is home alone.
Keep in Contact
If you and your child decide together that they're ready to stay home alone, make sure you are always in contact while out. If you're going to be later than expected, make sure your child knows and is comfortable with it. It's a good idea to have someone close by that your child can turn to for help the first few times being left alone. Letting a neighbor or close family member know the child is on their own for the first time gives them someone close they can rely on should you be delayed or can't get home if they become frightened.
Leaving your child home alone is a big step for everyone, and only you as the parent know if your child is ready. Making sure your child is prepared and ready is key to a safe and trustworthy experience that will no doubt provide both of you with a bit more independence.