If you have a 10 year old, like me, you might be wondering what “big kid” things they are ready for. Can they cross a busy road alone? Can they go riding around on their bike alone? Can they be left home alone?
There are no definite answers to these questions because every kid is different and each scenario depends on the individual child. How busy of a road are we talking? What kind of neighborhood do you live in? Is your child ready and mature enough to be left home alone and for how long?
As a parent, you have probably found yourself in a predicament on more than one occasion where it would be convenient to just run to the grocery store quickly by yourself, or maybe school is shut down for the day and you have a business meeting to attend so it would be easier to leave your kids at home for a short amount of time.
When it comes to staying home alone, obviously age is a huge factor. A 5 year old should not be left home alone ever, but a 12 year old can probably handle it. Maybe your 11 year old is fine by himself but not taking care of younger siblings. Again, it depends on the situation and it really depends on the kid.
In South Carolina, there are no state laws regarding when a child can be left alone. But there is guidance setting the minimum age at 9.
Here are some things to consider when you contemplate leaving your child home alone:
- Talk to the child about the idea. How do they feel about being home alone? Some will be very scared, while others will wonder why you haven’t left them home alone before. Gauge their confidence to see if they are ready.
- Think about the neighborhood you live in. Are there neighbors that you trust that your child could seek out in an emergency? Or, do you live around mostly strangers? Is it off a busy street or are you mostly secluded?
- Consider how your child handles certain situations, regardless of how old they are. Do you have the type of child who mostly follows the rules? Are they responsible with chores and homework? Do they know basic safety measures?
Kidshealth.org suggests parents try a practice run with leaving their child home alone. Let them stay home alone for 30 minutes to an hour while you are close by and reachable.
Here are some basic skills your child should know before being left home alone:
- When and how to call 911 and the address to give the dispatcher.
- If you have a security alarm, teach your child how to use it in case it gets set off accidentally.
- How to lock and unlock doors.
- How to work the phone.
- How to work the microwave.
- Make sure they know where the flashlight is in case the power goes out.
Go over what to do if a stranger comes to the door. Generally speaking, tell them not to answer it and not to talk to anyone.
Show your child where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it in case of a small fire, and show them where to go if there is a storm or tornado in the area. Also stock up on emergency supplies and make sure your child knows where these are kept.
Set certain ground rules for the following: having friends over, what rooms or drawers are off limits, TV time and computer time, cooking, and getting along with siblings. Make sure they know not to tell anyone they are home alone, even friends they are talking to on the phone or internet.
Channel your inner toddler-mom days and childproof your home too. Make sure the following items are locked up: alcohol; prescription medications; some over-the-counter medications, like sleeping pills, etc.; guns; tobacco; car keys; lighters and matches.
Most importantly, schedule a time to get in touch. Tell them that at a certain time you will be calling and expect them to pick up. Even if your child is communicating via another device or texting through Messenger Kids, it’s good to have a “check-in” every so often while they are home alone.
Finally, don’t forget to have a little trust in your child. Oftentimes kids are capable of more than their parents give them credit for. Don’t expect something to go wrong, and you just might be pleasantly surprised at how well it goes.