Need to run a few errands? Get out of the house for a while for some mental health time or exercise? Around the time your child reaches the pre-teen (tween) years, staying home alone may be an option. But, how do you know if your child is ready? The following points will help you determine if your child is equipped to do so:
Your tween indicates they want to stay home alone.
Your child is seeking more independence and has asked you to leave him by himself. He is not anxious when you are gone and he can keep himself occupied safely.
Your tween follows your directions and rules.
Your child has shown you that he can follow your expectations, even when you are not present. You’ve witnessed your child making good choices without your input. He adheres to the guidelines you have set in place about having a friend over, watching TV or a movie, playing video games, and time spent outdoors.
Your tween is reliable and self-sufficient.
Daily chores are done with little to no reminders. Your child can safely prepare simple snacks when he is hungry. He knows how to properly use the microwave and toaster. You can rely on him to use only the appliances you’ve agreed to let him use.
Your tween uses the phone properly.
Your child answers the phone appropriately. He recognizes why it is all right when you are away from the house to say you are unavailable, and how to take a message correctly.
Your tween understands safety.
He is familiar with basic first-aid and knows what to do in case of a fire or other emergency. He knows to call 911 and other emergency numbers if necessary. He knows what he can and cannot do when you are not at home. He understands that knives cannot be used without your supervision. He knows not to open the door while you are gone and which neighbors to call or go to if he needs help. He knows the “safe” meeting spot, to find you or be found, in case anything should happen. He knows where the flashlights and extra batteries are.
Although your child may know the emergency numbers, keep a list of emergency contacts and numbers in an easy to view place. Make sure all of your numbers are there as well. When panic or worry sets in, the brain can flood and we struggle to remember what we do know.
Have a simple chart of first aid tips close to the emergency contacts and numbers. (In our home a bright binder labeled “EMERGENCY,” with our address and home phone number below, holds contacts, emergency numbers, and basic first-aid procedures. This binder remains by the kitchen phone and comes in handy for any babysitter we hire.)
Begin slowly, leaving him alone for five to ten minutes the first few times and build from there. What else can you do to help your tween?
Give him something to do to structure his time. This helps alone time pass quickly. Check in with your tween while you are gone. Call to see if he is comfortable or has any questions, and also to keep him updated on when you will arrive back home.
This is an exciting time for your tween as he establishes more independence, with your confidence that he will do well.
Judy M. Miller, a mother of four, is training her tween son on how to be safely home alone. She is a Certified Gottman Educator and the author of What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween and Writing to Heal Adoption Grief: Making Connections & Moving Forward.