Leaving your child alone at home: How parents should prepare
You can feel prepared and confident with some planning and a couple of trial runs with your kids.
As mums, it is difficult for us to even think of leaving our children for a moment to take a breather — what more leaving child alone at home without supervision? Of course, we feel the discomfort and guilt knowing that we cannot be physically there with them (and very strongly).
But we could be faced with an emergency or even an unexpected business meeting, amongst various reasons. Sometimes, it is inevitable.
So how should we tackle such a situation then?
While we are doing this, not only are we adapting to a slightly different routine, our kids are, too. If handled well, it can be a positive experience for them. And in the future, we know that we can expect them to be more confident and independent if such a situation were to arise again.
Some things to consider as well as preparations you can make beforehand:
Know when your child is ready to handle being home alone — yes, age is a factor but it all boils down to the individual, and even their maturity
That said, we should never leave kids younger than 10 years old home alone. We acknowledge that every child is different, but at that age, most kids don’t have the maturity and skills to respond to an emergency if they’re alone.
Protip for parents: Age should never be the baseline for judgement to leaving child alone at home. Younger kids could be more ready to tackle it than you think and older kids could be more afraid than you know.
Perhaps you could start bringing it up and gauging how receptive they are to the idea. But your best bet is to do some planning and a couple of trial runs with them.
Even if you’re confident about your child’s maturity, it’s wise to make some practice runs, or home-alone trials, before the big day.
Protip for parents: Let your child stay home alone for 30 minutes to an hour while you remain nearby and easily reachable.
When you return, discuss how it went and talk about things that you might want to change or skills that your child might need to learn for the next time.
Think about the area where you live (are your neighbours one to be trusted and will look out for your child in times of need and emergencies? do you live in a busy or quiet vicinity?)
Here are some questions to ponder about to help you better assess if they are ready to tackle being home alone:
- Does your child show signs of responsibility with things like homework, household chores, and following directions?
- How does your child handle unexpected situations? Does your child stay calm when things don’t go as planned?
- Does your child understand and follow rules?
- Can your child understand and follow safety measures?
- Does your child know basic first-aid?
- Is your child able to use good judgement?
- Does your child follow your instructions about staying away from strangers?
What about handling unexpected situations then? What are some things to make sure your child knows before leaving child alone at home?
- When and how to call for emergency and be sure that they know what address information to give the dispatcher
- How to work the home security system, if you have one, and what to do if the alarm is accidentally set off
- Teaching your kids how to lock and unlock doors
- How to operate the microwave
- Using the phone/cellphone
- How to turn lights off and on
- What to do if:
- there’s a small fire in the kitchen
- the smoke alarm goes off
- a stranger comes to the door
- someone calls for a parent who isn’t home
- there’s a power outage
Regularly discuss some emergency scenarios — ask what your child would do if, for example, he or she smelled smoke, a stranger knocked at the door, or someone called for you while you’re gone.
If you’re still worried, there are some basic skills such as First Aid your child could take up that could come in handy during an emergency. It is an important life skill that everyone, even five to 12-year old children, can and should learn.
Here are some practical steps you can follow to make the transition smoother for the both of you once you have decided that your child is ready to stay home alone:
- Let them know when you will call. Is it going to be right after school or will you call home to check in?
- Don’t leave them guessing your availability. Let them know when you are unable to answer a call.
- Create a list of friends your child can call or things your child can do if they are lonely.
The key is not just to set them but making sure that your child knows and understand them.
Some rules you can consider (especially for older children):
- Having a friend or friends over while you’re not there
- Rooms of the house that are off limits, especially with friends
- TV time and types of shows
- Internet and computer rules
- Kitchen and cooking (you might want to make the oven and utensils like sharp knives off limits)
- Not opening the door for strangers
- Answering the phone
- Getting along with siblings
- Not telling anyone he or she is alone
- Everyday goods and emergency supplies
- Healthy foods for snacking in the kitchen
- Leave a precise dose of any medicine your child needs to take
Take caution: Never leave medicine bottles out as it could lead to an accidental overdose or ingestion, especially by younger siblings.
This is heard commonly and especially for younger kids, this is just another reminder that no matter how well your child follows rules, it is advisable to secure anything that could be a health or safety risk.
Lock them up and put them in a place where kids can’t get to them, such as:
- Prescription medicines
- Over-the-counter medicines that could cause problems if taken in excess, like sleeping pills, cough medicine, etc.
- Car keys
- Lighters and matches
Post important phone numbers — yours and those of friends, family members, the doctor, police, and fire department — that your child might need in an emergency.
But with all of that preparation, planning and practice — as you would like to call it — you are slowly helping the both of you to get comfortable to leaving child alone at home.
And it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad thing!
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