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Leaving Your Child Home Alone

Things to consider

It is natural to be nervous about leaving your child home alone, but if both you and your child are prepared, this can be an experience that boosts his confidence level and increases his sense of independence and responsibility. It is generally recommended that children under 10 years-old should not be left at home alone. However, even if your child is older, it really depends on many factors, including how responsible and mature you feel your child is, how comfortable both you and your child are, and the length of time your child will be alone at home.

Preparation and communication are key

  • Talk it over. Make sure your child is comfortable with being left home alone. Leave a list of do's and don'ts and any information your child might need. Go over situations that might come up and how to handle them. Make sure your child knows where you will be, when you will be back, and how to reach you. Make sure you are back on time, and talk to him afterwards about the time that he was home alone.
  • Try it out. Before you leave your child at home for a long period of time, you might want to do a test run. See how it goes for you and for your child when you go out for an hour or so to run an errand. Check in once or twice while you are out, and talk to your child afterwards about the time she was alone.
  • Safety first. Go over some important safety information with your child. Make sure he knows not to open the door to anyone, even if they are familiar, and not to tell telephone callers that he is home alone. Discuss how he can exit the house in an emergency: there should be at least two ways he can exit. Make a list of important phone numbers, such as that of the police and fire department, doctor's office, and a trusted relative or friend he can call if you cannot be reached, and make sure he knows his full name, address, and telephone number. You can ensure that doors and windows are secure, check that smoke alarms are working, and store anything dangerous that your child could get into, including firearms, car keys or alcoholic beverages. Put together a first aid kit with your child minor cuts or scrapes, and make sure he knows what to do.
  • Ground rules. Set and discuss limitations on having friends over, TV and computer time, kitchen and cooking, and the safety information mentioned above. Discuss what your child might do while you are gone. You can ask that she does her homework, read for a certain length of time, or finish some chores. Having a schedule to follow while you are gone will occupy time safely. When you return home, discuss with your child what she did during your absence.
  • Be available. Let your child know that you will call to check in once in a while, and that he can always call you (or a relative or neighbor on the list) if he is lonely or feels unsafe.

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Teens