Home Alone: Is My Child Ready?
The family dynamic begins to change when children return to school. A parent's work schedule never seems to sync with their child's school and/or extracurricular schedule. There may be times when a parent is faced with their child getting home before them or when aftercare/babysitter just is not cost-efficient. The decision whether or not a child should stay home alone is a tough one to tackle as there are several factors a parent should consider. In this week's blog we will provide some tips and helpful hints to help you decide if your child should stay home alone.
What does the law say?
In Indiana there is no law providing guidance on what age a child must be before they can be left home alone. Perhaps Indiana believes most parents will know when their child is mature and responsible enough to be left alone for a few hours. However, law enforcement, DCS/CPS, and the court system can and have become involved when a child has been left alone; and they will consider several factors in determining if child neglect or child endangerment took place by leaving a child alone.
Ask Yourself, "Do I Want my Child to Be Home Alone?"
Having a conversation with yourself about this topic is very important, because you know what your heart, head, and gut is telling you. You also hopefully know your child very well, and if not there is no need to even leave them alone then. To start the process, ask yourself:
How many hours will they be alone?
Is my child mature enough to be left alone? (Age has nothing to do with maturity)
Do I trust my child to be left alone?
Is my child responsible and will they be responsible when left alone?
How will the other parent feel about our child being home alone?
Is my child afraid to be left alone?
What rules/checklist do I want my child to follow when they come home to an empty home?
Is there a friend, family member, or trusted neighbor who could check in with my child, if needed?
Ask Your Child, "Do You Want to Be Home Alone?"
We have seen parents leave a child home because it was convenient for them and they thought their child was okay with it. However, the parent later discovers their child was afraid or did not like being alone in an empty home. It is necessary to have meaningful conversations with your child on this issue. Initially, the idea may sound really exciting to them, but after the first day, week, or month of being alone they may change their mind. So always check in with them about the arrangement and ensure they are comfortable with it. Below are some questions or topics to discuss with your child:
How long would you want to be alone?
What do you see yourself doing when you get home?
What anxiety, worries, or fears do you have about being alone or about what could happen if home alone?
What time would you like me to be home?
Would you like someone to check in on you, in person and via phone?
Rules and Responsibilities
Before you even talk with your child about this topic, you, as the parent, need to have a list of rules and responsibilities you expect them to follow when left alone. Creating this list beforehand will give you the upper-hand in the conversation. Have a checklist of things your child should do as they approach the home, as they enter the home, and what they should do while home. Write your checklist out and consider even getting a board that your child and you could put the list on together. Place the board in a place the child will have easy access. Create a list for yourself also (with your child's input) so your child knows you are responsible and thinking of their safety, even when you are not home. Some rules and responsibilities you could discuss are:
Do not be on your phone when walking up to the home and unlocking door.
Lock the door as soon as you enter the home. And set alarm, if you have one.
Call your parent as soon as you get into the home.
Do chores and homework.
No friends in the house, unless discussed and agreed to in advance.
Do not open door for anyone, no matter what. And if someone is at door, call parent and have them on phone immediately.
Never hesitate to call 911 and let them know they do not get in trouble and that it does not matter if an officer comes out and it turns out to be nothing. Consider having an officer come to the home and speak with your child about this. It will help make them more comfortable with law enforcement.
Tips for You, the Parent
Ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your home and provide them with your phone number and child's phone number.
Have one security camera or more in your home, allowing you to check in on your child.
Have a security camera at your front door (and maybe your back), so you and your child can see who approaches the home or is at the front door.
Trust your gut. If something feels wrong, listen to that instinct. Check in with your child or decide if maybe this is not a good idea.
Always remember, things can happen. No matter how well things have been going and how prepared and responsible you and your child have been. And not being there, will make things worse no matter what. Do not forget the legal system may want to talk with you if someone makes a report or something happens too. So never let your guard down or become too comfortable with this situation.
Having a talk with yourself and your child, setting rules and responsibilities, and checking in with yourself as to whether you are comfortable knowing things could happen; will assist you in making this decision. Hopefully the above tips and helpful hints will help you when deciding whether or not you should leave your child home alone.
Prevent Child Abuse - Indiana, prepared some great brochures on this topic. Below are two parts from the brochure we paraphrased and hope will assist you too. Everything below that is italicized is quoted from the brochure. If you would like the brochure and information in it's entirety you can get copies at https://pcain.org/
"If you and your child are confident that the time is right, trying leaving your child for short periods of time to rest the results. Call it an "experiment." First, make sure that these elements are in place.
There should be a basis agreement - a contract of sorts - between you and your child about what is expected when you are away, with clear rules as to what is off-limits.
Make a thorough check of our home for safety risks - access to kitchen appliances (especially gas), alcoholic beverages, firearms. Remove the risks!
Make certain your child has every key necessary to get into the house, with a plan for what to do if they keys are lost.
Afterwards, discuss your experiment - did each person feel comfortable?
These are scenarios you and your children can discuss and run through together. These were wonderful and highly suggested you try them!
You're home alone and a stranger calls to speak to Mom or Dad. What do you say? "Mom and Dad are very busy. May I have your number so they can call you when they are free?" NEVER tell anyone you are home alone.
A friend calls and asks you to come to her house, since her parents aren't home either. What should you do? "Mom and I have a rule that I can't go anywhere without her permission. I'll be glad to play with you tomorrow at school." NEVER invite a friend to your house without your parent's permission.
You are playing in the front yard and a stranger drives by slowly and tries to talk to you. What do you do? "Go into the house and lock the door. Look through the window. If the car does not leave call 911 and tell the operator exactly what happened." Remember the color of the car and what the driver looked like. NEVER talk to the stranger or go near them. Get as far away as you can from them.
A friend comes over (because you already asked permission) and tells you there is something "really cool" to show you. When you see that the "cool" thing is a handgun, what do you do? "Ask my friend to put the gun down and together go to another room (take along anyone else who is in the room). There, call my parent to come home immediately." If you can't reach a parent, call 911 and explain the situation. Stay away from the gun and wait for help.
You smell smoke, or the smoke alarm sounds. What should you do? "Call 911 and get out of the house. Wait in the front yard or another safe place and wait for the fire trucks." You and your parents should practice a plan of action until you know it very well.