by Lori Ramsey
What Age Can Children Be Left Home Alone?
Unless you are a part of a family structure where one parent is always home and always available there will come times when parents must leave their child alone. The answer is a varied as children’s personalities, the circumstances in which they must be alone and other maturity factors. Face it, if you have more than one child you understand they mature at different rates. So many things should be considered when determining how old your child should be before you leave them alone for an extended amount of time.
Maturity Level of the Child
The first thing to consider when deciding to leave a child without adult supervision is their maturity level. How old do they act? An eleven-year-old child can act like a seven-year-old and on the other hand a nine-year-old child can act like a fourteen-year-old. I’m talking about their ability to reason, their ability to think through problems, their ability to react in an proper way. Do they handle difficult situations with maturity, or do they crumble and cry and pitch a fit? Make a judgment call on how they conduct their behavior during normal times. Are they quick to step in and help out when needed? Do they exercise intellect or react like a small child? Determine the age by imagining them being alone and image different scenarios and how they’d react if you weren’t there. The actual age of maturity for a child to be left alone can vary from around age nine to age fourteen. Though I would caution leaving a nine-year-old alone for too long at a time.
Does the child in question have younger siblings in which they’d watch? If the child is an only child, leaving them alone should not be as concerned as leaving one with younger siblings. If there are younger siblings, does the oldest know how to treat them fairly? Are they assertive enough to keep the younger ones out of trouble? Are they able to handle things should the younger children get into trouble or get sick? Can the child manage the proper care of younger children?
Availability of an Adult
Never should a child be left alone without access to an adult, at least by phone. Older teens are okay to fend for themselves, but if the child is closer to ten to twelve, it’s vital they can access an adult. Equip your child with a protocol and phone numbers, preferably a small list, to call if they need help. You or your spouse should be at the top of this list, or if not, ask another family member or close friend to be available by phone. Make sure your child has a phone. In this day, many homes do not keep landlines and instead individuals have cell phones. If you do not have a landline, you should make sure your child has a cell phone.
Preparing for Being Without an Adult
When you decide your child is old enough to handle being home alone without adult supervision, set them up for success. Make sure they can access a working phone (see above.) Make sure there is plenty of food and drink and they can reach everything they need. If they can’t cook yet, have snacks ready to eat.
Go over safety, especially in the kitchen, especially if they will cook. Teach them how to use the stove, oven properly. Have an extinguisher handy and teach them how to use the extinguisher should a fire start.
If the home is heated by wood, be very vigilant about training your child how to use a wood stove. Make sure there is a fire extinguisher handy near the wood stove. If the home is heated with gas, teach your child about the gas detectors and what to do the alarm goes off. Make sure you have working smoke alarms and teach your child what to do if the smoke alarm goes off.
Have all emergency numbers readily available, such as 911, your number, other adults they can contact. Go over emergency plans such as what to do if they or a sibling is injured, if a fire starts, if they or sibling gets sick, etc. If they know what to do in an emergency, they will be able to react with a level head.
In the end, this is a decision each parent needs to make on their own as each child is different and each child has a different maturity level.