It’s a rite of passage for every parent: the moment your child stays home for the first time. You’ll probably feel like driving away as fast as you can, rolling down the windows, and cranking up the radio, while you yell: “FREEDOM!” You’ll probably be feeling a little anxious, too. If you’re wondering when it’s the right time to leave your child home alone, here are some things to consider before you take the plunge.
1. Check your state’s laws
Many states do not have laws that define a minimum age requirement for staying home alone, but some do. The website latchkey-kids.com has a helpful chart that lists each state’s restrictions. Be sure you have checked the laws and more importantly, that you are in agreement with them and your child’s maturity.
2. Is your child comfortable with the idea of staying home alone?
If not, it’s not a good idea for right now. Wait a few months and then have an honest discussion with your child again about her feelings about staying home alone. It’s very important your child is comfortable with staying home alone because it can be scary. The last thing you want is for this big step is for it be terrifying for your child.
3. Can your child carry out basic instructions?
Your child should be able to follow simple “house rules” before she can stay home alone such as locking the door and using the phone for emergencies. Staying home alone is a HUGE privilege and being able to understand situations that warrant not answering the door and calling 911 are integral to earning that right.
4. Has your child established patterns of responsibility at home?
Does she finish her homework on a regular basis? Does she follow through with weekly chores? If not, consider integrating chores and homework expectations on a daily basis to foster responsibility in your child before you let her stay home alone. If you’ve answered yes to the above questions, and you feel like your child is ready to stay home alone, create a plan with guidelines that are easy for your child to understand, and consider doing a trial run first.
5. Does your child know what to do in an emergency?
Does your child know where the fire extinguisher is located? How about a first aid kit? Make sure your child knows how and when to make use of these items by giving them a house tour and testing them on their knowledge. Put your cell phone number on an emergency contact list and also consider including phone numbers of nearby friends and neighbors. Laminate the list and keep it on the refrigerator. You can print a basic emergency contact form at Home Storage Solutions or check Pinterest. You’re bound to find a template that works for you.
6. Can they follow established house rules while you’re gone?
Can your child have friends over while you’re gone? Probably not a good idea until your child establishes a good track record staying home alone. What should they do if the doorbell rings? What are the expectations for watching TV/playing video games? Spell out house rules before you leave, so your child knows what to expect.
7. Before you leave your child home alone for the first time, do a trial run.
Leave the house for a short period and see how it makes your child (and you!) feel. When you return, have a discussion with your child about how she felt and allow her to ask any questions she may have. A preliminary trial run will make it easier on everyone’s nerves the next time around.