Due to my work schedule, I'm forced to leave my 11- and 12-year old children home by themselves from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. or enroll them in an after school child care program. How will I know when they're ready to stay home on their own? Also, how should I prepare them for this responsibility?
Very few states and/or municipalities have actual laws that dictate when parents can legally leave their children home alone. For the most part, this is because children mature at different rates. A mature 12-year-old may be ready for the responsibility, while a teenager with a history of being impulsive may not. In addition, there are issues beyond maturity to consider, such as how well your children get along when they're alone and whether they can be trusted not to engage in risky behaviors while there's no adult present.
Before you leave your children home alone...
- Consider your children's ages and individual maturity levels. Take the online quiz Is My Child Ready to Stay Home Alone? for help determining your child's level of maturity and independence.
- Leave a phone number where you can be reached. If possible, provide a land line in addition to your cell phone number, just in case your company's service is disrupted for any reason.
- Call home to check on your child.
- If possible, make arrangements for your child to check in with you, or with a relative or neighbor, while you are out.
- Thoroughly prepare them before you leave your kids home without an adult. Consider using a book, such as Dottie Raymer's Staying Home Alone, to discuss what it means to make safe choices.
- Post all emergency contact numbers on your refrigerator, including: 911, police, fire, ambulance, poison control, family members' home and work numbers, neighbors, and back-up childcare providers.
- Discuss your specific expectations and how you want your children to use their time while they're home by themselves. For example:
- Is the TV allowed?
- If so, are there any channels that are off-limits?
- Do you want your children to answer the phone?
- Should homework be completed before you arrive?
- May your children use the computer?
- Can your children have friends over while you're not at home?
- Can they go to other friends' houses?
- Make sure your home is childproof. For example:
- Are medications kept in a locked cabinet?
- Are there firearms in the home?
- If so, are they in a locked cabinet and/or do they have child safety locks?
- What could your children potentially get into that might cause them harm?
Prepare your kids for emergencies before leaving them home on their own. For example:
- What would you do in an emergency?
- What if someone were trying to get into the house?
- What would you do if there were a fire?
- Role play with your children how you want them to handle several different emergency and non-emergency situations. For example, how would they handle an asthma attack or allergic reaction? What would they do if someone came to the door? What would they do if the electricity went out or the phones stopped working? Planning ahead for these scenarios will help your kids think more clearly about how to handle unexpected scenarios in real life.
- Finally, ask your children if they feel confident and ready to stay home. If staying home without you turns out to be a frightening concept for either of your kids, hire a babysitter and reconsider this issue in six months.