Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?
I heard something glorious the other day from a friend with older kids. She said she ran errands while her kids stayed home. Wow, does that sounds glorious! So then I got to thinking…when can I leave MY kids home alone? They are 9, 7 and 4. I don’t think we are ready yet, but I do see a light on the horizon. If you too are wondering when you (and your kids) will be ready, here are a few things to consider.
1. Learn the law. Each state has its own law defining the legal age a child can be left home without an adult. In Kansas, that age is 6. Other states have a minimum age that is older. Know the law so that even if you think your child is ready, you won’t see the police at your door when you leave him or her home alone.
2. Ask yourself whether they are mature and responsible enough. My two older kids are very responsible rule-followers. They tell me the truth and can pretty much take care of themselves, get their own food, wipe their own butts, etc. However, my oldest (the 9-year-old) is easily distracted. If he’s in Minecraft world, I am pretty sure a tornado could tear through the house and he’d still sit there trying to build a red-stone house. My daughter (who is 7) is able to multitask. She is more likely to sense whether something is wrong and doesn’t get lost in another world like her older brother. She also tends to pay attention more. When her little brother was a baby, she was the one who knew where diapers were, not my other son. So honestly, I’m more likely to say she’s ready to stay home alone over him, even though she is two years younger.
3. Think about the circumstances around the event. How long will the child be home alone? Will she have to let herself into the house? Will she have to prepare food? Is she allowed to use appliances? Parents have many factors to consider when deciding if and when their child is ready. When we are finally ready to cross that bridge, we will probably start with a short, midday errand run for Mom, not at a mealtime, and the kids will have to stay in the house. Sometimes parents let their kids have a key to the house so they can let themselves in after school, knowing Mom or Dad will be home shortly. Make sure you consider all factors. If your child is likely to get hungry while you are gone, ensure she knows the rules on what is allowed. Can she use the stove? Microwave? Can your kids have friends over? Play outside?
4. Prepare your kids and go over the facts. Before being left home alone, kids need to know how to get hold of you or another adult and how to call 911. What are the adults’ phone numbers? What are Mom and Dad’s full names? What is your address? Adding a neighbor’s phone number to the list is a good idea as well. What happens if the smoke alarm goes off? Get out of the house. What happens if someone rings the doorbell? Don’t answer it. What happens if there is a medical emergency? Call 911. Does anyone in the house have life-threatening allergies? Go over these details with your child to make sure he can handle the unexpected.
5. Teach your child basic first aid and CPR. Take your son or daughter to a class at your local library, police station or fire station. Ensuring he or she knows what to do if someone is bleeding, unconscious or not breathing may help save a life and help your child handle a scary situation.
6. You might be ready, but is your child? Does he still have fears that might impact his ability to act rationally? Fears of monsters, the dark or strangers must be addressed before deciding it’s okay to be home alone. Also, your child’s behavior should impact your decision. As I said, I have two who have always been relatively responsible. I have one, however, (my 4-year-old) who consistently does unsafe things. He will NOT be ready anytime soon to be home alone, even with his older siblings. His tendency to climb on high surfaces, break things in the house and sneak unnecessary amounts of sugar makes him a liability in a kids-only scenario.
7. For whom and what is your child responsible? A pet? A younger sibling? An elderly grandparent? Someone with special needs? As I said before, I think I’ll feel comfortable leaving my older two alone in the next couple of years thanks to their maturity and responsible nature (as a team). But it will be a while before I let them be in charge of my youngest. If you are asking your child to be responsible for someone other than himself, make sure he is truly ready for anything that could come his way. What if the dog gets out or Grandpa needs medication? Those are extra responsibilities that require maturity and preparedness.
8. Make a chart and post it somewhere where it’s visible and easily located. On the chart, include contact names and numbers, first aid and CPR steps, and any other important information. In a moment of panic or emergency, this chart could help your child remember exactly what to do.
Which of the following should your child know before staying home alone?
A. your phone number
B. a neighbor’s phone number
C. whether anyone in the house has allergies or special needs
D. all of the above
Which of the following should you NOT teach your child?
A. how to administer first aid and CPR
B. how to use a fire extinguisher
C. how to get out of the house if the smoke alarm goes off
D. how to get hold of you and other adults
Your child is ready to be home alone if she
A. can call 911
B. knows all important phone numbers
C. neither A and B
D. both A and B
What factor should NOT be considered when deciding whether your child is ready to be home alone?
A. whether other kids their age are staying home alone
B. the law
C. whether they have overcome their fears
D. whether they can handle all responsibilities that may arise
Karen Johnson has three kids, ages 9, 7 and 4. She writes at The21stCenturySAHM.com.