Parents often wonder when it is appropriate or safe to leave a child home alone. It’s always great when children are ready to progress to this point. It means possibly that kids may be able to return home after school while a parent works or that you don’t have to drag a child out with you on errands when they’d much prefer to be at home. You need to look at the “when” question here, from a couple of perspectives.
First, your country or state may have specific laws in place about when it is legal to leave a child home alone. Most of these laws set an age limit, usually from somewhere to ten or eleven years of age. Be familiar with your state or country laws regarding this, since violation of these laws could result in investigation of your fitness to be a parent.
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Regardless of the age limit set by your state, it is not safe or appropriate to leave a child home alone when he or she is not fully prepared to be left. Preparation can take various forms. Your child should know how to use a telephone for instance, understand how to get out of the house in cases of emergency like fire, and understand protocol for how to handle telephone calls, strangers knocking at the door and the like. You don’t want to leave a child home alone who isn’t prepare to handle minor emergencies, or who won’t know how to act in many commonly occurring circumstances.
The reasonable approach is to train your child on what to do in these settings. For instance a child should have a list of emergency numbers by the phone if anything comes up, and your family should all learn early how to exit the house safely. Children should be aware of anything in the house they should never use without supervision, like sharp knives or the stove.
TVs should be programmed to only show child-friendly programming to avoid the curiosity of kids when you’re not there to supervise. Any medications, given the high rate of child abuse of parental prescription drugs, ought to be under lock and key. Moreover children should be fully apprised of any rules that may exist when you’re not at home, like not having guests over, what to say on the phone to people who ask to speak to parents that aren’t there, and what to do when someone knocks on the door, such as not answering.
Before you leave a child home alone for any length of time, you should have some practice runs and some role-playing. You may also want to enlist some friends your child doesn’t know to help you. For instance, you can take a shower and have a friend come over and knock on the door. See how well the child conforms to the rules under these circumstances. The first few times you plan to leave a child home alone, make your trips very short. If these first few times don’t go well, you may want to wait a few months or a year and try again.
Another thing to evaluate is your individual child. Some children are more capable or mature than others. A child with learning disabilities and things like poor impulse control might need a few more years to mature than a child without them. You should also weigh maturity if one child is left to supervise others, since giving one sibling supervisory power over others is not always the best thing to do.