All parents eventually face the decision to leave their child home alone for the first time. Whether they are just running to the store for a few minutes, working during after-school hours or summer vacation, parents need to be sure their children have the skills and maturity to handle the situation safely. Being trusted to stay home alone can be a positive experience for a child who is mature and well prepared. It can boost the child’s confidence and promote independence and responsibility.
However, children face real risks when left unsupervised. Those risks, as well as a child’s comfort level and ability to deal with challenges, must be considered. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created a factsheet that provides some tips to help parents and caregivers when making this important decision.
Even after you decide your child is ready to stay home alone, it’s natural to feel a little anxious when the time comes. These helpful steps can make the transition easier for you both:
Childproof Your Home
Reduce the risk of health and safety hazards by locking up or removing the following items:
- prescription medication and over the counter medicine
- car keys
- lighters and matches
- guns (if you do own one, make sure it’s locked up, unloaded, and stored away from ammunition)
Set Ground Rules
Consider setting rules about:
- having friends over
- TV and computer rules (set parental controls)
- kitchen and cooking guidelines (do you want them using the oven?)
- not opening the door for strangers
- answering the phone
- not telling anyone he or she is home alone
Set up a schedule for calling. Make sure your child knows when you’re available and when you might be unable to answer a call. You might have your child call in as soon as they get home, especially if they are coming home to an empty house, or set up a time when you’ll call home to check-in. The goal is to figure out something that is convenient for the both of you.
Have on Hand
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with healthy snacks and emergency supplies. Post important phone numbers and leave flashlights in an accessible place in case of a power outage. It’s also a good idea to set out the precise dose of medication your child needs to take, but be mindful of leaving the bottle out if younger siblings are present as they may ingest.