By Dena Embrey, Courier & Press, June 28, 2016 –
Whether they are making a quick trip to the grocery store or working during summer or after-school hours, all parents will eventually face the question, “Is my child ready to stay home alone?”
Whether they’re alone for 30 minutes or 3 hours, unsupervised children can face real risks. Many factors need to be considered before making this important decision. The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers the following advice on what to consider before leaving your child home alone:
Age and maturity. There is no set age when children are able to stay home alone safely. Determine your child’s maturity level by considering the following questions: Is my child able to physically/mentally care for himself? Does my child obey rules and make good decisions? How does my child respond to stressful situations? Does my child feel comfortable or fearful about staying home alone?
Circumstances. When and how you leave your child home alone can make a big difference in her safety and success. You should consider the following: For how long/often will my child be expected to care for herself? Is my neighborhood safe? Are there trusted adults nearby who could offer assistance in case of an emergency? Will my child be caring for younger siblings?
Safety Skills. Children left home alone need to be able to perform certain skills to ensure safety. Does your child know his full name, address and phone number? Can he use a key to get inside and securely lock doors once they have entered? Can he perform basic first aid? Does he know how to safely prepare a meal? Does your child know what to say or do if someone calls or comes to the door? Can he reach you or another trusted adult at any time?
Once you have taken all of this into consideration and determined your child is ready to stay home alone, here are some steps in preparing them and easing any anxieties they may feel:
Have a practice run where you leave home for a short time while staying nearby. This can help identify any issues that you might not have considered before.
Role play possible scenarios your child may face such as an unexpected visitor or phone call. Act out how to safely respond without revealing they are home alone.
Establish rules about what is allowed while you are away. Set clear guidelines for watching TV, going outside or using electronic devices. Make sure they have activities to keep them busy to avoid boredom or loneliness. Make sure to remove or secure alcohol, medications, firearms or any other possible risk to your child’s health and safety.
Discuss emergency procedures and where important phone numbers are kept.
Identify trusted adults they can contact if needed. Set a time to check in with your child and have a code word they can use in the event of an emergency.
Listen to your child’s feelings about staying home alone, especially if this is a new experience. Even the most mature and responsible children shouldn’t be left home alone too much. Consider other options such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations or faith-based organizations to help keep your child connected and involved.
It is also important to consider child protective policies to avoid behavior that is considered neglectful. Prevent Child Abuse Indiana provides the following brochure to help guide parents in making this difficult decision: in.gov/dcs/files/Home_Alone_Brochure.pdf.
If you have concerns about a child being neglected or left home without adequate supervision, please call the Indiana Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556 to make a report.