Home alone? Is your child ready for this major step?
Staying at home without mum or dad is a major milestone. It shows that your child is developmentally ready to care for herself, that she can handle a mature level of responsibility and that you have the trust in her (and her abilities) to go without a babysitter.
Even though Australia doesn’t have a specific laws dictating a specific age when a child can/can’t be left alone at home, understanding what needs to happen before the ‘big day’ is absolutely essential. There is no actual age that magically makes a child old enough to stay home on her own. Children develop at different rates. That means your child’s maturity level may not be the same as her classmates’. Instead of going with an age-graded marker, you need to look at your child as an individual.
Your child needs to be able to follow the rules and take care of situations that might arise when she’s home alone.
Before making this major decision, ask yourself:
- Does my child feel comfortable being at home alone or is she anxious/scared?
- Can my child follow the house rules – even when mum or dad isn’t there to enforce them?
- Does my child understand safe behaviours (such as staying away from household chemicals or not using the stove/oven)?
- Will my child know what to do if a stranger approaches the house?
- Will my child know what to do in the event of an emergency (getting out of the house if there is a fire, calling you if there is a minor injury, calling emergency services if needed)?
- Do I feel comfortable trusting in my child’s sense of responsibility?
Not sure, have a practice…
If you’re not sure of some (or all) of the answers to these questions, try a trial run. That doesn’t mean you leave your child by herself just to see what happens. Take 15 minutes or half an hour and go outside or stay in your room, letting your child have the run of the house. Ask her to pretend that you’re not home and do whatever she thinks she would do if you really went out. If either one of you feels uncomfortable or your child needs to come to you before the time is up, she may not be ready to stay at home by herself yet.
Keep in mind, even though there isn’t an actual age when staying at home without a parent becomes okay, very young children should never be left alone. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers and young grade schoolers are not equipped to care for themselves and always need some sort of adult supervision.
So, you’re ready for your kids to give it a ‘real’ try?
When you finally do decide that your child is ready to stay by herself, start slowly. Instead of leaving for the afternoon, take a walk around the block or run to the store down the street. Gradually build up the time increments, progressively giving your child the chance to spend more time supervising herself.
Create a firm set of rules, and make sure that your child completely understands each one. These may include technology use while you’re away, where your child can go in/outside of the house, if friends are allowed over, if friends of the opposite sex are allowed over, whether your child can cook for herself or not, what (if anything) your child is allowed to eat, if she can leave the house/yard area and when she has to call you.