It sneaks up on you… the day arrives and your child asks “Pleeease! I don’t want to go to the store with you… can I stay home instead?” This can be an exciting (and scary) time for both parent and child (mostly scary for the parents!). This is a popular question in our workshops…. “Is my child ready?” and “What is the age law on children staying home alone?”
Many parents think the “law” is age 12. So it comes as a surprise to find out that in most states there is no age “law” minimum for kids staying home alone, just recommendations. The “recommendation” for each state can vary from ages 8 to 12, but these recommendations are not a law.
Only you can determine if your child is ready (and the situation is safe) to stay home alone… we have complied a partial list* with some good questions to help get you started and help you gauge the maturity and readiness of having your child staying home alone for short periods of time:
- Does your child know how to dial 911?
- Does your child know your full name and address?
- Does your child know how to operate the phone correctly?
- What are your rules regarding cooking or playing outside when you are gone?
- Can your child respond correctly to “What if” situations such as “What if the power went out?” or “What if there was a fire?”.
- Have you reviewed your rules on answering the phone or the door if you are not home?
- What are your rules about having friends over?
- Does your child show an interest or confidence in staying home alone?
- If your child will be watching a sibling, do they get along?
- Will a younger sibling respect the rules and authority of the older sibling?
- Does your child know what to do if they become injured while home alone?
- Can your child lock and unlock the door to your home?
- Is your child physically capable and physically healthy enough to stay home alone?
- What specific dangers might your child face? Would they know how to handle them?
Common parent myths and missteps:
- Telling your child to not answer the door. When you are not home, your child should not OPEN the door but should always “ACKNOWLEDGE” the door by answering through the locked door, in a loud voice “Who is it? “I can’t help you” and then just walk away. You just want to make sure that the person on the on the other side of the door knows someone is home. If someone is casing your home to rob it, the last thing you want is for them to think your home is empty and to then have your child find themselves in a home invasion.
- No Friends over. Some kids do better when they have a home alone buddy. If there is an emergency, both kids can work together to make a safe decision.
- Older Siblings make great built in babysitters: Staying home alone is a big deal for many kids and it often takes some time for them to get the hang of knowing what to do and feeling confident being home alone. It is often best to wait 6-12 months before leaving an older child home with a younger sibling. This waiting period can be even longer if the younger sibling is an infant or toddler, if the younger sibling is hard to manage, has special needs or may not respect the family safety rules or if the siblings don’t have a history of getting along.
- Daytime home alone is the same as nighttime home alone readiness: It is common for kids to be comfortable being home alone during the day but nighttime home alone readiness might not happen for a while. This is normal and time and confidence will help them prepare for being home alone after dark.
Be clear about your expectations before you leave. Leave a list of emergency contact numbers for your child and go over a list of homes or businesses they can go to if they need to seek help. When you return home make sure to ask how things went and if there is anything that can be done next time to improve the experience for both of you.
About the Author: Kim Estes is the owner of Savvy Parents Safe Kids and has worked with parents for over 15 years, educating them on various parenting topics. Kim is a certified prevention educator through the National Security Alliance, the Kid Safe Network and is a Darkness 2 Light facilitator. As a Child Safety Expert, Kim has appeared on local and national TV and Radio shows, helping to raise awareness on the importance of prevention education. For more information about her work or to schedule a workshops go to: www.savvyparentsafekids.com