Article by Dr. Valencia Agnew
Is my child old enough to stay home alone? The answer is not as easy as one might suppose. There are many factors to consider. Knowing the laws in Michigan is probably the easiest to figure out. Why? Because Michigan doesn’t have a real law, BUT a Children’s Protective Services (CPS) report could be filed for leaving a child 10 years or younger alone. The harder part of the decision to leave your child alone has little to do with age and everything to do with readiness. Being old enough in chronological years is not the same as being old enough emotionally and developmentally.
Is my child ready for the responsibility? With privilege comes responsibility. While it can be seen as a privilege, there is quite a bit of responsibility attached. This is where you can evaluate your child’s ability to be responsible for day to day tasks. You can evaluate their ability to problem solve and follow rules. If little Johnny can hardly wait for you to turn your back before he is breaking the rules, he might not be ready. Age and maturity level are important factors in determining readiness. You also want to take into consideration the environment in which the child will be left (is the neighborhood safe), who else will be in the house (ages of and difficult to control siblings), what is expected of the child while alone (cooking, managing siblings), the time of day or evening, and the length of time alone.
How do I get my child ready for being alone? Here are a few of the basics. Be sure your child knows:
- Your (meaning parents’) first and last name (seems simple, but I’d hate to take for granted it is known).
- Home address and phone number (consider have them hanging somewhere as well as memorized).
- Where list is with other emergency people to contact (friends and family).
- If you do not have a landline, does the child have access to a phone AND knows how to use the phone.
- Who a safe neighbor is to go to if needed
- When and how to dial 9-1-1.
- Rules for specific situations – If the phone rings, if someone knocks at the door, internet use and safety, use of stove, and how to get out if fire.
- Where to find and how to use First Aid kit
Don’t be afraid to add to the list based on your situation and need. Error on the side of caution is my rule of thumb. I’d rather find out I did too much than not enough. In addition to what has already been mentioned, take some time and have a discussion with your child as well as do some planning. Here is a list of questions:
- Is your child responsible with school work and chores?
- Is your child able to recognize potentially dangerous situations?
- Can your child problem solve in general? Or know how to ask for help?
- If left with siblings, can they handle conflict? Do they get along with one another? Are they follow rules or is one led in bad direction?
- Would your child tell you or a safe adult if something happened to them in general?
- Is your child anxious or depressed? Afraid to be left alone?
- Does you child know what to do if there is bad weather (tornado warning in Michigan)?
- Who may your child tell they are home alone?? Probably no one, but your child needs to know not to tell friends.
What other things might I need to do to prepare my child? And finally, practice with your child. Have someone come to the door when you are at home and see what happens. Leave for a few minutes and have someone come to the door or call. Take some time to practice and train your child. Where you see skills lacking it is a teachable moment. If your kids are young enough or still enjoy movies such as Home Alone, have fun watching it and talking about what if situations. Sign up for our monthly newsletter for resources.