Guest Author - Lisa Polovin Pinkus
In most states, there is no hard and fast rule regarding the age at which children can be left home alone. Some states – like Colorado and Michigan – offer guidelines. A few states suggest a specific age, but there are additional parameters regarding their recommendations. In Illinois, for example, one is not permitted to leave a child younger than 14 “without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor” (Juvenile Court Act, 1987, Section 2-3, item 1d).
As you can see, the laws or suggestions can be very confusing and hard to interpret. Your decision will ultimately depend upon your own personal assessment and discretion. Some things to consider include your child’s maturity level, how long you will be gone, and other responsibilities the child will be left with (for example, are there other siblings to watch?).
If you do decide to leave your child home alone, here are some helpful hints for your assurance and to build your child’s confidence. When you decide to leave your child home for the first time, leave for a short while – a quick errand or a visit to the neighbors. This will allow you to test the waters and help your child become comfortable with being alone. Children feel safer and are often more successful when you leave them alone during daytime hours.
Set some necessary rules for while you are gone. You might even consider signing a contract with your child. Should she answer the phone if it rings? Does he respond to the doorbell while you are gone? If the answer is no, consider testing your child at some point by asking a neighbor to ring the bell while you are gone.
Is your child permitted to use the microwave or other household appliances while you are out of the house? Is she allowed to invite friends over, watch television, or play on the computer? When you are going over these guidelines with your child, explain your reasoning for each of the rules. Help your child take responsibility for his or her safety.
Before leaving your oldest child to watch younger siblings, consider signing her up for a babysitting course. Many libraries, YMCA’s, and other community organizations offer them throughout the year. The courses typically offer basic first aid, CPR, and other important things to know when caring for others.
It is also important to talk with your child about emergency situations and teach him or her how to respond in these situations. Talk about various emergency situations and ask your child how she might handle them. He should know your phone number and how to get ahold of you. It is also a good idea to leave the number of a nearby neighbor just in case.
If you’re ready to leave her alone, she most likely knows your home address. However, in an emergency situation, it is easy to forget simple, little things. Leave a paper handy with your phone numbers, emergency contact numbers, and home address – just as you might for a babysitter.
Deciding to leave your child home alone is a big step – for you and for your child. When you are both ready to do it for the first time, set up a situation where your child can succeed. The more you do it, the more comfortable your child will become!