As kids approach their teenage years, they yearn to be treated as adults and get to “stay home alone.” This can be a challenging time for a family, but it can go smoothly and safely with the proper precautions.
Age: Kids under the age of 10 are not experienced enough to make the best choices, and should not be left alone. Above that age, the parent must assess maturity level and decision-making skills.
Friends: When kids get together, they become more bold and daring. If your child will be home alone and allowed to have friends over, make sure you have names and contact numbers for each. It’s a good idea to speak to the parents of those friends so they are aware you won’t be home.
Lock it up: Young adults are curious. They may feel inclined to experiment and test their limits. Alcohol and prescription drugs can be a tempting source of entertainment. Keep these adult substances locked up securely to remove the temptation to try them.
Expectations: Set the ground rules clearly. Work together to establish them, rather than handing down an edict. When kids know their boundaries and have had a role is setting them, there is less confusion. Make sure there is a plan for emergencies, including numbers for fire, police, and poison control. Have a neighbor nearby who can be reached quickly. Set rules for answering the phone and the door. Discuss situations such as a kitchen fire or strange person seeking help. Talk about how to handle these kinds of issues. Even try a few practice skits so kids will feel confident.
Tasks: When your child is at home alone, make sure there is enough to keep him or her busy. There is less chance of getting into something dangerous if kids have chores like cleaning or laundry, homework, or even a movie or TV show they really like. If there is a chore assigned, make sure it was done, so your child knows he or she must accomplish it.
Communication: When you arrive back at home, talk to your child about how he or she spent the day. Ask for specific details and give positive feedback for good choices made. Know that kids are bound to make mistakes. Let them know it’s okay to tell you if they mess up. Keep the conversation calm as you establish a consequence. Always listen for anything that doesn’t make sense. If you are concerned that you are not being told the whole story, continue the conversation until you feel comfortable with the information. Have planned check-in times, as well as surprise calls or even quick stops at home.
Parents who guide their kids into adulthood through increasing roles of responsibility will be rewarded with a happy future. If you are interested in learning more about what is going on in the community to help guide your children, our website features some resources that will help you stay abreast of substance abuse.
Leaving Kids Home Alone (National Crime Prevention Council)
Leaving Your Child Home Alone (Kids Health)