Is your child old enough to stay home alone?
Isanti County Family Support Team
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It seems timely as spring is here and summer will soon follow, to provide information for parents wondering when they can leave their child home alone and appropriate supervision. Minnesota law does not state how old a child should be until the child can stay home alone. However, Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has written guidelines which include the following:
• Children age 7 and under should not be left alone for any period of time
• Children ages 8-10 may be left alone for up to three hours
• Children ages 11-13 may be left alone for up to 12 hours
• Children ages 14-15 may be left alone for up to 24 hours
• Children ages 16-17 may be left alone for over 24 hours with a plan in place concerning how to respond to an emergency.
Also, DHS has provided guidelines for what is considered appropriate supervision. That is the following:
• Children under age 11 should not provide child care
• Children ages 11-15 who are placed in a child care role are subject to the same time restrictions of being left alone as listed above
• Children ages 16-17 may be left alone for more than 24 hours with adequate adult back up supervision.
There are two areas to consider when leaving your child home. The first is to ensure your child has the ability to care for him/herself, and the second is to ensure the house is physically safe in which your child will be home alone. The following questions and suggestions are meant to help parents think through whether or not their child is ready to be home alone and for how long as well as to ensure the home is physically safe.
Is your child ready/able to be left alone?
• Does she want to be on her own?
• Is he afraid to be alone in the house?
• Can you depend on her to follow the house rules?
• Does he complete his assigned chores as agreed upon?
• Can you rely on her to tell the truth?
• Does he have common sense?
• Can she deal with unexpected situations in a positive way? How calm does she stay when things don’t go as planned?
• Does he make good judgments or is he prone to taking risks?
• Does she know basic first-aid procedures?
• Does he follow your instructions about staying away from strangers?
• Is she self motivated?
• Can he amuse himself or does he require constant supervision?
• Is your child free of disabilities that require supervision?
Is your house safe for your child?
• The doors have secure deadbolts, and doors are always locked until parents come home. Does your child know how to unlock and lock doors?
• If you have a security system, your child knows how it works. She should be reminded to never use the code around friends, as you don’t want that kind of information out in your neighborhood.
• A working fire extinguisher is accessible to your child, and your child knows how to use it.
• There is a smoke detector on every floor of the home.
• Your child knows and practices a fire alarm plan.
• A first aid kit is readily available. Does your child know how to use it?
• Emergency numbers are posted near the telephone (911, parents’ work numbers, relatives, friends, neighbors)
• Appliances are well maintained. Teach your child how to use the microwave or toaster oven correctly so that she can prepare simple snacks after school
• Guns are stored separately from ammunition, which should be under lock and key.
• A flashlight and batteries are available, and your child knows where they are in case of power outage. Does your child know what to do in case of a power outage?
• Emergency money is left with instructions for your child.
• Alcohol is locked away.
• Medicines, cleaning supplies and other toxic substances are in their original, labeled containers and stored in a safe place.
• Light timers are installed so that your child doesn’t return home to a dark house, especially in the winter months.
Does your child do the following for the sake of his/her well-being?
• Checks in with you or an alternate caregiver on arriving home.
• Answers the door and telephone safely, without revealing that he is home alone.
• Can administer basic first aid. (You might want to have your child attend a course given by the Red Cross.)
• Handles sharp objects safely.
• Finds shelter in severe weather (e.g. thunderstorms, tornado warnings)
• Recognizes the signs of forced entry and what to do. Your child should be instructed to never enter the home if a window is broken, the door is open, or a light is on that usually isn’t. Tell him to go to a neighbor’s for help. Calling the police from there may be necessary.
• Locks all doors when alone.
• Tells you immediately about any fears or concerns.
• Set ground rules for who can come over to the house, TV and computer use, playing outside, etc.
• Leave healthy snacks for your child.
• Have a schedule for your child to follow while you are away.
• Leave notes to remind them of their chores/homework to be done to make them feel less alone.
• Have parental controls and filtering systems enabled for the Internet and TV.
• It is important to have your child know what to do if you should be late arriving home.
• Do some short practice runs before leaving your child home alone for long periods of time.
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a well known professional of pediatrics and writer, offers the following advice when it comes to assessing a child’s readiness to be on her/his own: “During these all-important bridge years between childhood and adulthood, kids really do need something constructive to do, and they also still need to have their activities supervised. Most of all, they need to know that their parents care about them, are involved in their lives and have their best interests at heart.”
Other resources for more information:
• Leaving Your Child Home Alone article at http://kidshealth.org
• Home Alone Quiz at www.about.com