Today it is not as common to have a family where most homes can survive on a single income, or one or both parents are at home to greet the kids after school. Homes that have two working parents can be hard to manage, even when childcare is not considered. There are chores to be done, dinners to make, and most importantly, quality time to be spent. Once your child reaches a certain age, you may find it more difficult to meet all their needs regarding schedules and time at home. Schools give children days off that you may not have planned for in your career life, and your career may require you to come in at times that school is not regularly in session.
Leaving your child home alone for the first time can be very daunting. How can you know that they are ready? Here are a few things to think about to decide if you and your child are ready for this big step in their maturity.
Know Your Child
Obviously, you are not going to let your five-year-old stay home alone. They simply are not independent enough. In the same way, it is obvious that most sixteen-year-olds are well prepared to handle even a few days without parental supervision. What about middle-school aged children, though?
Every child is different, so it is important that you think about how your child reacts to certain situations. In general, it is best to wait until your child has reached at least 10 years of age, at least, before leaving them home alone. You should also take your neighborhood into consideration. If you are friendly with your neighbors, they will likely be able to keep an eye on the outside of your home to watch for any emergent situations. If you have a home security system with smart locks, you may feel comfortable letting your child stay home alone at a younger age than if your child must be responsible for keeping track of a single house key.
As mentioned above, the way your child responds to their surroundings goes a long way in determining if they are ready to be left home alone. Think about times when your child has shown signs of responsibility (or a lack thereof.) Do they listen to you when you ask them to do chores and homework? Does your child do well even when things stop going as planned? Before you leave your child home alone, you should make sure that they understand and follow rules. Even more importantly, your child should understand that rules are put into place for their safety. Make sure that they understand how to deal with basic first aid situations, like cleaning up small cuts and dealing with minor burns.
Give it a Trial Run
Once you are certain that your child knows how to handle the situations that are likely to occur in your absence, it is a good idea to do a controlled trial run before you let them stay home alone in the truest sense. Have them stay alone for short periods of time, say, between a half an hour to an hour, while you are in close proximity and easily reachable, in case anything goes wrong. Upon your return, have a discussion with them about how they handled it, and correct anything that may have gone wrong.
Prepare Your Child
Many parents tend to wait until their child is far beyond the age of maturity before allowing them to stay home alone. This is usually due to a somewhat irrational fear that something bad will surely happen. To make you and your child more comfortable with the situation, make sure they are prepared for anything unexpected that might happen. You can take them to first aid classes at the American Red Cross, teach them the procedure for calling emergency services, and show them how your home alarm system works. Try quizzing your child on how they would react to various situations, such as if a stranger came to the door, or if they could smell smoke in the house.
It is often a difficult decision to leave your child home alone, and with good reason. Even if they know how to deal with certain emergency situations, they may freeze up when they happen. Eventually, however, you will have to let your child become more independent. Following these tips before you leave them home alone for the first time, and brushing up on emergency procedures every once in a while, should help you and your child become more comfortable with this essential step in their maturation process.