Whilst it is clear that a 7 year old shouldn’t be left at home alone and an 18 year old can, most parents find it hard to know exactly when in the grey area between those ages their children are ready to stay home alone.
In general, children need to reach a certain level of maturity and capability before they can be left home alone. If you have more than one child at home, then you need to ensure that all your children are at a stage when they can stay home alone before you can leave them without adult supervision. Even then, you should probably only leave them at home for a few hours and only during the day time.
Assessing if Your Children are Ready
The first step you will need to take is to assess whether or not your children are ready to stay home alone. They should be comfortable managing all of the following situations before you consider letting them stay home unsupervised.
1. Are Your Children able to Understand and Follow Rules?
If your children do not have the maturity to understand and follow house rules, then no matter how much you prepare them, they may not follow your safety guidelines and it is not a good idea to leave them at home alone.
2. Are Your Children Generally Calm and Able to Deal with Unexpected Situations?
The fear we have of leaving our children at home lies in whether or not they will know how to react to an unexpected situation and remember to follow the safety procedures which we have taught them. If your children are anxious, prone to panic or freeze, then you should wait awhile before allowing to stay home alone.
3. Is Your Neighbourhood Safe?
If you live in a neighbourhood where there is crime, delinquency and the risk of bad influences, then you should not leave your child at home. Leaving them alone will expose them to danger and the possibility of meeting and falling in with unstable or criminal elements.
4. Know How to Handle a Phone Call from a Stranger?
Do they know how to handle phone calls when you are away? If they receive a call from a stranger, they need to be able to respond with a simple comment like “My mother can’t come to the phone right now, if you leave your name and number I’ll ask her to call you later”. They should on no account engage in a conversation or reveal that they are home alone to strangers.
5. Follow Your Instructions to Stay Away from Stranger?
Do they know what to do if a stranger comes to the door? Again, on no account should your child answer the door and allow a stranger into the house.
6. Know what to do in a Household Emergency?
Do your children know how to put out a fire, know how to turn the water mains off in the event of an overflow, understand how to reset the mains should a power outage occur? Do your kids know how to administer basic first aid and where all your medical supplies are kept?
7. Know How to Contact Key People for Help?
Make sure that your children have a list of key people to contact in emergencies. In addition to knowing how to contact you, other family members, friends or neighbours, they should know the names and numbers of the nearest hospital, their paediatrician, neighbours or family who are prepared to help, the police and the fire department.
8. Are Your Neighbours, Friends or Family Able to Help in an Emergency?
Make sure that you have trusted neighbours, friends or family nearby who will be able to help your children in the event of an emergency. Talk to them in advance and ask them if they will be able to help your children in the event of an emergency if you are unable to be there on time.
Steps You Can Take to Prepare Your Children
If you feel that your children are indeed ready to stay home alone, then you should take some time to prepare them for their time alone at home.
Start with Practice Runs
Start small. Leave them at home for about 30 minutes and stay nearby. Talk to them about how they felt and if they feel ready to stay home alone for longer periods of time. Run through what they should do in the event of an emergency and let them practice how to respond to different situations with you.
Agree on a Set of House Rules
Discuss what they can and cannot do whilst you are away. If friends and strangers are not allowed into the home, make this explicitly clear. Do you need them to complete their homework or chores first? Are they allowed to watch TV or go online? It is probably a good idea to install parental controls on your media devices to block inappropriate content.
Share Your Itinerary
Let them know where you will be, what you will be doing and what your timetable looks like. This will give them a sense of security and will also make it easier to find you in the event of an emergency.
Make Sure You are Always Contactable
Keep your mobile with you at all times and respond to them immediately if they contact you. Don’t assume that they won’t need you whilst you are away.
Call Them Whilst You are Out
Give them a call whilst you are out. Let them know you are there if they need you and allow yourself to check in on them to make sure that all is well at home.
Arrange for Back Up Help in Case They Need It
Speak to your friends, family and neighbours and arrange for back up in the event of an emergency. Let your children know whom they can call and what to do if they need help urgently.
Only leave your children at home alone if you feel that they are mature enough to deal with unexpected situations and have been equipped with basic safety skills.
Prepare your children by coaching them through possible emergency situations and starting with practice runs.
Create a support network and a backup plan for times when you may not be able to reach your children quickly in the event of an emergency.