My kids are ages 3, 7 and 10 and I’ve always wondered when it’s “ok” to let them stay home for a while on their own. Age 10? Age 13? Different people have different schools of thought on this one. Even though most of us probably were home alone as kids at a MUCH younger age, it is a different world and we do need to be cautious. In my opinion, I think it depends on the child’s personality and level of maturity. Some kids may be ready sooner than others. I also think it’s a matter of their level of knowledge.
When trying to decide the right time for children to stay home alone, we often look back to the first time we stayed home alone as kids. After talking to my mom, I realized I was getting off the bus with my kindergarten sister at only eight years old. We stayed home alone from then until my mom got home from work. Times have changed, though.
My oldest will be 11 in November so we have started “prepping” her for this big step. I have left her home twice for ten minutes at a time while I dropped off my sister in law at work. We addressed a few things before I did, but I know we have much more to cover before I let her stay home for a longer period of time. If you have older kids and are wondering if now is the right time, ask yourself a few questions:
How responsible is your child?
Can they be counted on to complete homework and chores without being reminded?
Are they good rule followers?
Do they usually make good decisions or is he or she prone to taking risks?
How do they react to unexpected situations?
Do they panic or keep a level head?
Do they give up quickly and turn to you for solutions?
Would they know what to do in an emergency?
Have they had any training?
Would they know what to do in different situations.
These are just questions and in no way is this an exact test to know if your child is ready. Just some things to keep in mind. After you just whether your child is ready or not, here are some things to cover with them so they can be better prepared for an unexpected situation:
1. WHO TO CALL FOR HELPObviously, not all emergencies require 911. For times like these, there should be a list of relatives and trusted neighbors they can contact if they can’t reach you. This list should be in an easy to find place or programmed into their phones.
Side note: Most kids at this age do not have cell phones and the houses these days do not have landlines. We are looking at getting a cheap burner phone and teaching them how to use it in case of emergency and programming important numbers in it. We will also teach this to our 7 year old.
2. FIRST AID
This one is huge. The only way to ward off panic is to arm them with the knowledge of what to do in an emergency. My kids haven’t done this yet but it’s on my list. I know I’ll be signing up my girls for a babysitting class when they can and my son does scouts so he learns some there. No matter what, they NEED to know when and how to call 911. They need to know what is a real emergency, such as fire or injury, and what is not. They need to know to call 911 before they even call you. Make sure you give examples of when NOT to call.
3. YOUR FIRE SAFETY PLAN
Every family should have a fire safety plan, and they should have it memorized. Make sure they know if a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide monitor starts to alarm, they should get out of the house immediately, and only then go to a designated spot and then make the emergency call. Go over and practice escape routes and locations of escape ladders with them (if you have them). Make sure they know to stay low and the classic “stop, drop, and roll” too. If you live in an area with frequent natural dangers like tornadoes, make sure they know what to do if the siren sounds.
4. HOW TO SHUT OFF UTILITIES
This is a good one for us parents to know as well. Consider an overflowing toilet. Their phone call to you should be to confirm they did everything correctly. They should know how to shut the water off to each toilet and sink, and where the main water shut-off is in your house. If you have natural gas, they should know where to shut that off, too.
5. WHAT TO DO IF THE POWER GOES OUT
We will not leave our kids home alone at night at this age but it is good to go over. Your kids should know where the flashlights and batteries are kept in the event of a power outage. If a storm pops up, they should be taught to think ahead and grab the flashlights before the power goes out. I would not advise them being allowed to use candles, but that’s just me!
6. WHAT APPLIANCES ARE THEY ALLOWED TO USE
This will vary per family and child, but make sure your kids know what they are allowed and not allowed to use. Can they use the stove? If so, cover the emergencies that could arise with that (like different types of fires and what natural gas smells like). Are they microwave only? Make sure you go over no metal in the microwave and explain what they can and can’t reheat and how to properly use it.
7. WHAT TO DO IF THE PHONE RINGS
This is not a problem in our house because we do not have a landline, and only the 4-5 people whose names are in the phone should be calling. You may want to teach them that if the same number calls the house cell phone 2 times in a row then they need to answer because that is one of us from a foreign line. The easiest thing by far is to let it go to voicemail, but if you do have your child answer it to make sure they never say they are home alone. They should also never say who they are.
8. WHO THEY CAN’T CALL OR HAVE OVER
Stay away from this. Don’t go down this road.
9. WHAT TO DO IF THE DOORBELL RINGS
Making a rule never to open the door is almost a given, but should your child answer through the door? This is a tricky one. I’d have to lean towards NO, but, you’d have to decide that for yourself. You also need to cover particular situations, even as unlikely as they seem. Teach your kids never to respond to “Your parents are hurt, I need you to come with me now.” This is by far a more common tactic than “Want some candy?” Reassure them that a trusted relative or friend would get them if something went wrong. Even if a police officer comes to the door telling them to open it, instruct them to tell the officer that they will call the police department for confirmation before opening the door.
10. ARE THEY ALLOWED OUTSIDE?
This depends on your neighborhood and their age. Streams, creeks, and pools are completely off limits. They should know how to handle the dog needing to go out and what to do if a pet runs off too. Otherwise I would say no.
11. YOUR TECHNOLOGY RULES
Lastly, you should be you need to be very clear about how and when they can use the TV, computer, and iPads. They should know what they can use and what they can’t and what sites or games are allowed and which are blacklisted. As a parent, you need to have a plan and checklist for what you kids need to do. Be disciplined and give them tasks to do.
This is a big step and needs to be something that you teach in steps. Start small and work to longer periods. Look at these 11 things as a way to go over the things that you may not have thought of. Role play. Do this with your kids, it will make a huge difference. Do something like running to the gas station as practice. More than anything PRAY. Pray for protection over you home and kids daily.
TEXT BY Thomas Cox and Martha Kendall Custard