Home Alone at the End of Summer
In many communities there is a known gap between the end of summer camp and the start of school, and as a result, many parents struggle with the dilemma of what age is appropriate to leave their child home alone. So what are the rules? Where can I find them? What should a parent/caregiver do?
The Law: At what age can a child be left home alone? Excellent question, but don’t expect much help from lawmakers.
- Thirty states have no laws on when a child can be left home alone.
- Eleven states provide guidelines, not laws, which range from 6-12 years old.
- Currently only three States have laws:
Illinois requires children to be 14 years old
Oregon requires youth to be over the age of 10
Maryland states children must be 8 or older
Guidelines: The focus, so often, is based solely on a child’s age, not a child’s maturity, and since all children mature at different rates, hopefully that’s the reason we can’t get a definitive standard. Child development can be complicated; it varies widely and includes physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and moral ability. So start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Does my child feel comfortable being alone?
- Can my child care for him/herself?
- Can my child follow rules?
- Can my child handle an emergency?
Circumstances and skills: When a child is left alone for the first time there are many considerations to gauge. What would your child do, how might he/she act? Ask yourself the following:
- How long will my child be alone?
- Will he/she be isolated or with other children?
- Is our home or apartment safe?
- Does my child know how to unlock and lock the door?
- Does my child know what to do if someone comes to the door?
- Do we have a household safety plan? Does my child know it?
- Does my child know how to contact me at all times? (at work, cell phone, etc.)
- Can I provide a secondary contact in case he/she can’t reach me? (a trusted adult)
Tips: So by now you’re probably a little nervous, but if your child seems ready, start slowly.
- Begin by providing a trial run, one hour or less
- Review and write down house rules and how to handle an emergency
- Go over possible situations, but empower, rather than create excessive fear
- Check in with your child
- Teach your child to share his/her thoughts and feelings
- Don’t extend the time alone just because he/she has done well.
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