Home Alone: How to Determine if Your Child is Ready

At some point, every parent faces the decision of determining whether or not a child is able to stay home alone.  As a parent of three, I’ve found that every child is different and each child has a unique level of maturity, at every age and stage of his or her adolescence.  Leaving a child alone for the first time is a big step.  Along with basic safety advice, there are a few home-related emergency situations you should keep in mind when helping your child learn how to handle being at home unsupervised.  

There is no standard, acceptable age that a child is considered mature enough to stay home unsupervised.  There aren’t even standard laws from state to state.  But to determine if your child is ready, consider whether your child feels comfortable or nervous with the idea of staying home alone.  Next, make sure basic safety procedures are discussed, like how and when to dial 9-1-1.  Keep hazardous materials out of reach.  You might want to keep certain items off limits when no adult is at home, for example kitchen knives, the stove, oven or toaster, power tools or cleaning chemicals.  

As your child is older and able to handle longer periods at home alone, discuss emergency scenarios with your child.  What would he or she do in case of a fire?  What if your child is injured while home alone?  Part of this discussion should include basic home know-how, for example – does your child know how to find and shut off the water main in case of a major leak?  Can your child safely operate a fire extinguisher?  Does your child know what to do if the smoke detector is triggered?  What should he or she do if the power goes out?

Many states have guidelines to help you determine if your child is ready for this big step.  To learn more, you can find out how to contact your local child protective services agency by calling Childhelp at 1-800-422-4453.  Or visit www.childwelfare.gov.

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