What You Need to Know About Leaving Children Home Alone
Every family reaches a point where they must consider whether and when it is appropriate to leave children at home due to the necessity to work, run errands or attend to other commitments. With most families comprised of two breadwinners, it is much more common for children to be home alone following school hours than ever before, but unsupervised children face a number of risks and dangers. The ability of children to react to threats to their safety pales in comparison to that of an adult. Parents are also unable to predict when disaster may strike and how best to prepare children for it in advance.
How Old Must a Child be to be Left Home Alone?
While most states define neglect differently, Illinois has made it pretty clear at one point a child may be left unattended at home. It is one of only three states with laws concerning this matter and prohibits children under the age of 14 from being left alone. This is the oldest age among the three— with Maryland allowing children as young as 10 to be left alone and Oregon allowing 8-year-olds to be unsupervised.
More important is the child’s maturity, mental development and health factors. There are some physical or mental conditions that may make it impossible for a child to be left on his or her own while others may exhibit the ability to be independent at a very young age. Only if your child can show an understanding of the house rules and knows how to react in the presence of danger should you consider leaving him or her alone.
Additional Factors to Consider Prior to Leaving a Child at Home
All of the following must be taken into consideration before you allow your child to remain home alone.
- Does your child show a willingness and ability to follow rules? In addition to the ability to follow rules, there must be clear rules in place so that your child knows how to conduct him or herself while you are not there.
- Is your child familiar with how to secure a home? This includes being able to lock doors, use a security system if you have one and how to contact help in an emergency.
- How safe is your neighborhood? Pay attention to any news that there may be dangers such as a string of robberies or violent crime. If your neighborhood is not secure, you may not want to leave your child alone.
- Are there family members or friends close by that your child can rely on for help if it is needed? In the event that your child needs something, it is comforting to know that a neighbor or family member can provide assistance.
- Does your child feel comfortable being left alone? Some children may become anxious when they are left alone and may not be ready for this step.
- Is your home free of hazards? If you are going to leave a child at home, it is important there are no dangers present that can cause him or her harm.
Develop a Safety Plan
Before you leave a child at home, you need to make sure that you have plans in place for specific emergencies which may arise. Role playing these scenarios can be a fun way to educate your child and teach him or her how best to remain safe and secure. These situations include what to do when someone comes to the door, how to respond during a fire, what to do if someone tries to break into the house and how to respond if the child or a sibling is injured.
Your child should always know how to contact you in the event of an emergency. Families that leave their children at home should establish the rule that both the parents and children always know where the other is so that they may contact each other when needed.