When, and under what circumstances, can we leave a child home alone? By far the best judge of whether a child is ready for more independence is the child himself. At 6, he wants to ride his bike alone to a friend’s, at 7, he wants to walk to school alone, at 10, he wants to stay home alone while you take his younger sister to gym class. It’s important for parents to respond to these needs.
Leaving a child home alone should be a gradual process. Begin by offering options. “I’m going down the street to Mrs. Smith’s to borrow sugar, it will take me 10 minutes. Do you want to come or stay here and continue watching that video?” If those 10 minutes are successful, next time try 20, then 30.
Parents should consider these tips before leaving a child home alone:
• Make sure your home is safe.
• Agree on appliances that are usable, and ones that aren’t.
• Run through what to say if a stranger calls – “My mom can’t come to the phone, can she call you back?” Never “Mom will be home at 6 pm.”
• Instruct your child never to open the door to a stranger. Peepholes at a child’s eye level can make him or her feel more secure.
• If you are not going to be home at the agreed time, call.
• Don’t be afraid to ask your child, “Were you afraid?”
• Second and third children often demand to stay home alone because an older sibling does. Try this answer “Your older brother proved he could handle this. When you are his age, it will be your turn ”
• Fight peer pressure with this answer, “My job as a parent is to decide what’s best for you and for our family.”
• Compensate your child for his home-alone time with a special activity with you. If your 13-year-old is watching your 6-year-old, compensate him as you would a babysitter.
It can be in the best interest of a child to be left home alone, if only for a short while. Having to make decisions for themselves – what should I do now, what should I eat? – makes them feel more secure, more confident, more grown-up.
You need to have lots of conversations about being home alone, both before and after the event. Most children experience some degree of fear when they are home alone.