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At some point in your parenting journey, there will come a day when you start discussing leaving your child home alone. It is a big step and is oftentimes a very nerve wracking one as the fears of what can happen if you leave your kid alone will in the moment vastly overshadow the benefits. So much can go wrong! A forgetful child leaving the stove on can burn the house down. An overly friendly child opening the door to anyone who rings the doorbell can lead to expensive luxuries being stolen or even worse. I can go on and on but, in conclusion, there are plenty of reasons not to leave your child home alone. With that being said, there will come a day when you have to. Here are some things to keep in mind!
Knowing When They are Ready
Many states have a minimum age requirement that must be met in order for children to stay home. This is the first thing you have to take into consideration, but it is important to remember that sometimes, even if they meet the age requirement, you know them best and understand if they are mature enough to actually stay home alone. If your child isn’t even remotely independent and unable to follow any sort of direction, now may not be the best time to leave them home alone.
There is no way to tangibly measure maturity and independence so use your best judgment as a parent. Some things that you can look for is how they handle instructions that you give them and how much they rely on you for simple tasks. If they can consistently listen to basic instructions and do things like dress themselves, prepare a snack for themselves, and entertain themselves then they may be more ready to stay home alone than you’d like to think!
Laying down the Rules
Without rules in place, things can get out of hand really quickly. Every household is different and can have their own set of rules, so find out what works best for your family! For me, my parents made sure I never opened the door if anyone knocked (1) . I was also not allowed to mess with the thermostat (2), invite anyone over (3), go outside and play (4), open the blinds (5), or turn on the stove (6) just to name a few. With each rule in place, it is important to explain why they are in place to help your children better understand the consequences and dangers of not following the rules.
This is how my parents explained some of their rules to me:
- You don’t know who is on the other side of the door. This is dangerous because if it’s not a nice person, they can get in and hurt you or steal your things.
- They explained what the thermostat was and how sensitive it was. They also explained to me how they have it preset to a comfortable temperature and changing it too much can lead to increased energy bill costs and provided alternative solutions if I got too hot or cold.
- Anyone under my parents’ roof was their responsibility, so they did not want someone (more often than not another minor) in their home if one of them weren’t also home.
- If anything were to go wrong, they wouldn’t be there to resolve the situation. It also is dangerous because anyone driving by can see children outside alone, and that can be a very dangerous situation.
- Strangers are able to drive by, look in, and see that I am home alone which creates a dangerous situation.
- If it is just me home alone, I can forget to turn it off or leave something too close to the stove. This can cause a house fire which is very dangerous and expensive.
No matter how obvious it may seem to you, it is important to explain it to your child. Simply telling them not to do something just won’t do no matter how nice it would be. Children are naturally curious and will want to know the reason behind all of your rules and genuinely taking the time to explain to them the possible dangers will go a long way! As they grow up and have younger siblings, they too will be able to act as a leader explaining to them what the rules are and why they should follow them.
Now, before you leave, there are some important pieces of information that you should leave your children with! This includes things like important phone numbers like yours and other caretakers, nearby friends or neighbors, and emergency services. It would also be beneficial to include specific directions like if you prepared a lunch for them and any heating instructions. If there were any chores that you wanted them to do, leave a note for them as well. One last piece of information that I think would be helpful is a time frame of when you will be gone, where you will be, and when you expect to be back. You can add any additional piece of information that you feel may be necessary as well!
The Hard Part
Now that you have gauged their readiness, layed down the rules, and made sure to write down all of the information that you feel is important, you get to one of the hardest parts which is leaving the house. It’s difficult as even if you planned everything perfectly, things can still go wrong. The most important thing to remember here is that you can’t predict and plan for every bad scenario. The good part is you can learn from them when they happen and adapt to the moment. This teaches your children to think for themselves and adapt to different situations which is a great thing to be able to do in life. Very rarely do things play out exactly how you want them to, and it’s important to in these moments be able to adapt to what is thrown at you. You may be scared to let your kids stay home alone, but the reality is there will come a day when they leave your home and are all alone in the real world. Prepare them for that and trust them as you embark on this new and scary part of parenthood!