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Children Home Alone & Safety

by Chelsea Fitzgerald

Once children reach middle school, they often complain if you hire a sitter and insist that they are old enough to stay home alone. Determining whether they are mature enough to stay alone confounds many parents. Parents might also worry about the legalities of leaving a child alone and facing accusations of neglect if a problem occurs.

Legalities

Most states do not have a specific age when being home alone is permissible; they typically leave that to the parent’s discretion, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway website. However, according to the Kids Health website, it is not advisable to leave a youngster 10 years of age or younger at home alone. They often are too immature to handle an emergency.

Determining Maturity

Age isn't the most important guideline when determining whether your child is mature enough to stay home alone. The ability to mentally and physically take care of himself is the first priority. It is also vital that your child is trustworthy and usually makes wise decisions. Some children are emotionally ready to stay home alone, but others are quite fearful. If your child has qualms or is uneasy, wait a few months before broaching the subject again. The child should be knowledgeable about basic home safety rules and how to follow them consistently. If your child panics in an emergency, it is a wise idea to wait until he is a bit older to leave him alone. Knowing vital information such as names and addresses are crucial in emergencies. Drill your pre-teen on emergency numbers, basic first aid and ways to reach you, if necessary. It is helpful to post the guidelines on the refrigerator or near the phone.

Environment

Consider your neighborhood and your home environment before making this tough decision. If you live in a relatively safe neighborhood and your home is free of hazards, it is less dangerous to leave a child alone. Friendly, reliable neighbors who are home during the day or during the time you are considering leaving your youngster alone are another plus. This gives parents peace of mind knowing that a trusted adult is nearby.

Time Limits

Once you determine that your child is responsible enough to stay home alone, give the experience a trial run. The first time, leave for a short period such as 30 minutes while you run an errand nearby. It is also comforting to do this trial run during the daylight. As your child’s confidence and dependability increases, you can lengthen the time he stays alone.

Guidelines and Setting Boundaries

Establish boundaries on who is allowed in your home during your absence. Many parents tell youngsters not to answer the door at all and have a strict policy against any friends coming over. Others allow a list of trusted friends but only one at a time. Explain to your youngster that the privilege of staying alone is dependent on him always obeying the rules. Restrict the use of Internet, TV or add parental controls on the devices to help ensure the safety of your child. These guard him against seeing programs or websites you do not allow him to watch or visit. If your child has been safely preparing meals for years, you might have few reservations if a meal is necessary in your absence. Otherwise, leave leftovers that he can microwave or ingredients to put together a sandwich or other snack. Some parents acquiesce when it comes to using the microwave, yet do not allow their child to use the stove at all unless an adult is at home.

Latchkey Kids

Many children have to let themselves into the home after school. They stay by themselves until the parents arrive home from work. This is often due to economic factors and the high cost of after-school care. Instruct your child on what to do if he comes home from school and finds the door unlocked, partially open or sees other signs of an intruder. Stress with him that he is never to give information over the phone or to a stranger that he is home alone or his parents will not return for a few hours. It is a wise idea to have your child call to inform you that he is safely locked inside the house each day. Give your latchkey child something to occupy his time if he is home by himself regularly, such as homework, pet care or chores. These expectations and consequences if he does not meet them, prevent him from surreptitiously inviting friends over or getting into other mischief

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