home alone on winter break
Winter break is quickly approaching and a lot of parents are wondering if their kiddos are old enough, or mature enough, to stay home alone. The holidays bring about busy schedules with work and social activities and sometimes you’re scrounging at the last minute to figure out who’s going to watch the kids. Most kids will tell you they are ready to stay home alone long before you are comfortable letting them. Oh the freedom of those long hours with no one hogging the remote or interrupting their game! It’s a little slice of heaven – but is your child ready?
“Staying home alone can build a child’s independence and resilience. It can also leave them open to getting into trouble if they become bored, lonely or feel neglected,” says Melissa King DO, pediatrician at Dayton Children’s Pediatrics and director of the Healthy Me program.
Gauging a child’s maturity level is the first step. Does your child…
- Want to stay home alone?
- Show responsibility with homework, household chores and following directions?
- Stay calm (relatively) in unexpected situations or when things don't go as planned?
Ohio has no law setting a minimum age to be left home alone but in general, consider 10 years old a good place to start.
If you and your child are feeling good about the idea, take some basic steps to prepare.
- Set the ground rules – What are they allowed to do and what are they not? Watching TV or playing on the computer may be allowed but you may not want them cooking a pizza until you get home. Are friends allowed over? Do you want them opening the door or answering the phone?
- Cover the basics – post a list of emergency phone numbers, i.e. Grandma and Grandpa, the neighbor across the street, or the number to your office at work. Make sure they know how to operate any equipment they may need to – microwave, alarm system, fire extinguisher, etc.
- Make a plan – Run through a list of emergencies and scenarios– a fire, a storm, a power outage, someone comes to the door. Have your child tell you what they would do.
- Do a test run – walk around the block or run to the grocery one day and see how your child handles a short period of time left alone when you are still nearby and reachable. Discuss how it went and anything your child may need to feel more comfortable.
- Check in – set a time that you will call your child to check in while they are home alone.
- Be available – make sure that you have your phone on you at all times. And if you’re in a meeting or not available to take a call, make sure that some else is available.
With a few simple steps your child is well on their way to feeling confident in their latchkey kid status!