Every parent will eventually face the inevitable question: When is it appropriate to leave my child home alone? And every parent will come to a different conclusion. This question can’t be answered by a definitive age; you must consider many factors, each of which affect your individual child differently. First you’ll need to research whether your state has an actual law to dictate when children can legally be left home alone. If not, you may want to check out guidelines that are usually available through your local or state government’s child protective services. Consider your child’s age, maturity level and decision-making skills. Children develop at completely different rates, so a mature 12-year-old could be ready to go it alone while an impulsive 16-year-old may not. Trust your instincts above all else.
Before being left alone, your child should be able to complete certain tasks and be aware of specific safety precautions, such as:
- Knowing when to call 911 and what address and phone number to provide to the dispatcher
- Knowing how to operate any alarm systems within the house and what to do if any of them go off
- Knowing which kitchen appliances are off limits and how to operate those that are allowed
- Knowing how to react if there’s a small fire, the smoke alarm goes off, severe weather alerts occur, someone calls for an adult who isn’t home, a stranger comes to the door, there’s a power outage, etc.
Once you decide that your child is ready, it’s important to take the necessary preventative measures to ensure their safety in your absence.
- Leave your contact phone number, as well as those of neighbors and nearby family or friends. Be sure to post all emergency numbers in an accessible area.
- Have your child periodically check in with you or another trusted adult, and vice versa.
- Establish TV/video game/computer rules, such as duration of use, which channels/games/websites are allowed, etc. Take advantage of parental controls where applicable.
- Discuss with your child what is expected of them while you’re gone. Are they allowed to answer the phone or door? Should they have homework or housework completed by the time you return? What types of snacks are allowed? How much food/kitchen preparation can they handle? Are they allowed to have friends over or go to friends’ houses?
- Make sure your home is a safe haven for your child. Lock up all medicines, cleaning supplies, alcohol/tobacco products, flammable items and anything else that could bring them harm. Keep firearms, ammunition and other weapons in a lock box, and ensure the key remains with you at all times.
The most beneficial way for you and your child to get used to staying home alone is by testing it out for short periods of time. Try a visit to the grocery store or running a few errands. As you both get more comfortable with the situation, you can leave for longer periods of time. Then your worries will cease … that is, until your child gets their driver’s permit.
Contact Us (859-525-8181) if you have any questions!
About Pediatrics of Florence
We believe that children are more than just “little adults.” They have unique personalities, challenges, and life circumstances and we have made every effort to make our offices and care as “kid friendly” as possible. We have an aquatic theme in the waiting rooms (separated for sick and well children) as well as themed examination rooms. All of our physicians are Board Certified Pediatricians and members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and our nurse practitioners are all licensed Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and are available to see both well and sick children.
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