The magic question many parents ponder, at what age is it ok to allow a child to stay-at-home alone for short periods. Once a parent decides a child is capable of being home alone for brief periods, it is time to establish a few important basic safety rules and guidelines.
Children need to know their home address and phone number. They should also know which neighbor to go to if there is an emergency and they need to leave the house. Remember, in emergencies, even adults have difficulty remembering simple information. Write out emergency information like home address, phone number, and parental cell phone numbers and post it next to a phone in the kitchen.
If the home has an alarm, use it. Teach children a simple code to enter to disarm the system. Nowadays many systems can be set for multiple user codes. Tell them how to activate the emergency alert button if someone tries to brake in. Children home alone should never answer the door or admit to anyone who comes to the door that they are home alone. If someone keeps knocking and will not leave teach children to call 911 immediately.
Parents should always leave a contact number for children to reach them. Usually, a cell phone number is the best choice and recommended when possible. Children should call 911 in an emergency, rather than call a parentís cell phone.
Mom and Dad must be clear on what their expectations are for each child when they are home alone. Who is in charge? Can the child use the microwave, stove, or watch television? Who is in charge if there is more than one child? Will it be ok to have friends over? Can the child talk to friends online or on the phone? Can the child play outside in the yard?
Before leaving a child home alone, parents should role-play with the child using scenarios they may actually experience. Pretend to be someone calling to talk to mom. Have the child practice what they will say. Children should never tell anyone on the phone or in person that they are home alone. Have them practice saying mom cannot come to the phone, and can they take a message.
The most important concept a parent can teach a child today is to limit the personal information given out to anyone, in person, online, on the phone or in the trash. What I mean by in the trash? Parents need to teach children at a young age to shred everything that has their name, address, age, birthday or other identifying information.
Finally, each child develops and matures at a different age and rate. Where one child is capable and responsible enough to be left alone for brief periods at age 11 or 12, it may not be suitable for another child the same age, which is less mature and more impulsive. Each parent has to decide what is best for his or her child.