At some point a parent faces the choice to leave a child home alone for the first time. Whether the decision is based on necessity or convenience, the transition to having your child stay home alone is a big step for every family. In general, it is not a good idea to leave a child under the age of 10 years old by themselves. Some states have laws regulating the age at which a child may be left home alone. Check with your state agency that services children and families for this information. (In Alabama check with the Department of Human Resources-www.dhr.alabama.gov or phone 334-242-9500)
- Is your child ready? There is no perfect age when children are ready to stay home alone because children mature at different levels. The most important thing to consider is the level of responsibility your child possesses. Does he complete his homework, and handle his household chores, and can he follow directions? How well does your child react to unpredictable events?
- Amount of support: Consider the amount of support you can count on from neighbors, family, and friends. Leave your child a list of trusted individuals he can call if you’re not available to talk with him.
- Start off slow: Have a trial period. Start with short separations. Leave your child alone in the house during the day for an hour while you run an errand. Afterwards, talk with your child to see if he felt lonely or frightened. If everything goes well, slowly increase time and distance apart. Leave him specific directions to follow while you are away. If he deviates from your instructions, he may not be ready to be left alone.
- Role Play: Act out possible situations to help your child know what to do. Many children feel they understand a safety plan after it is discussed, but fail to put into action if tested. Set up possible scenarios, such as a power outage, and have your child demonstrate exactly how he would handle the situation. Gradually add more serious circumstances to your safety plan.
- Establish clear rules: Make sure your child knows what is and is not allowed when you are not home. Having established chores or other tasks help keep your child busy while you’re away.
- Don’t overdo it: Even a mature, responsible child shouldn’t be home alone too much. Consider other options such as after school programs, youth centers, or church groups, to help your child stay busy and involved.
- Siblings as Sitters: Check with your state agency about laws regarding appropriate ages and the number of younger children an older sibling may care for. Question neighbors and family members about their practices. Ask your older child how they feel about staying with their sibling. If you sense there is a significant amount of sibling rivalry it may be best to go another route. The safety and well-being of the children should be the deciding factor.