As our boys neared about the age of 10 or so they began to hear of friends who are home alone for a bit such as from the time the bus drops them at home until parents are back from work. To a pre-teen and teen this sounds so cool. The idea of being home alone is a huge milestone and they are eager for doses of independence wherever they can get it.
As parents, so many thoughts pass through our heads when we get to that point where perhaps we can try some doses at being left home alone. What if there is an emergency? What if they forget to have their phone charged? What if strangers try to enter the home? What if they decide to turn on the stove or fall? We can drive ourselves silly with the ‘what-if’s’ and never leave them home alone. But, I think it is important to reach this milestone.
Teaching a child to be home alone can bring some valuable lessons and even if you don’t think there will ever be a need to leave your child home, I think finding ways to teach a child this independence and leaving him or her alone in spurts is more valuable than that thrill of independence for them. It can introduce talks about trust, making plans and perhaps they will have a minor panic moment that teaches them the importance of making sure that phone is available or to have to think on their feet. They may need to use these lessons elsewhere in their young lives.
We have recently begun training our youngest to be home alone. Notice I use the word TRAINING? This is because like an important job, you need training. This is an important responsibility and it requires planning and tasks to follow.
- First and foremost, check about your State Laws. In Wa. state we do not have a formal law about a child’s age to be left home alone but we do have an advisory of 10 years old. Our youngest just turned 10 so it is a great time to start training them after their 10th birthday. Keep in mind there may be a separate law on what age to leave a child responsible for another child if you have 2 left home alone. Know your law!
- As soon as you know your State’s law on children home alone, consider your child’s maturity level. We have 3 boys and they are all very different people.
- Put the rules on paper! Trust me, your child’s head has a big ego as they lavish in this idea of being home alone. The opposite may also be true, they may be nervous and anxious as you get to the point of actually leaving. So, rest assured that all those rules you mumbled at them did not stay in their heads very long. So have your rules written down and left out for them.
- Start small. We began by allowing our son to stay home alone as we took our evening walks. Eventually I may run to the grocery store 5 minutes form our house and then that graduated into longer errands. But never at night after sunset and never longer than 1-2 hours for maybe the first year or so.
- Check in! As much as you want to test them on their independence I always give a call within 5 minutes of leaving for 2 reasons: First is to test they have their cell with them and it’s on and working. Second, is to gage their level of nervousness. If they keep asking when you will be back or exactly where you will be, they may be showing their nerves by asking so many questions so I know to make it quick.
- One of my top rules are DO NOT CLOSE DORS BEHIND YOU. We have an over 3,000 square foot home. If he decides to go upstairs and close his game room door behind him he will get lost in video games and potentially not hear noises or alarms that may go off in the home. They need to keep volumes down and doors open for safety. Once I came home and he had the door shut-he did not even know I walked through the door and was home because I startled him. For 2 months the game room was off limits if we are gone. He lost the game privileges.
- Keep them busy! I tell my son he can watch the downstairs TV where he is in the main part of the home, play computer or video games only if he keeps game room door open at all times and if he lost game privileges I leave a list of chores he can do AND earn money form to make it motivating. If they get nervous or scared, it keeps them busy and passes the time which helps them out a bit. I also have a NO FRIENDS over rule when I am away too.
- The emergency plan! Like you have the babysitter list-that becomes your child’s new sheet! I have all numbers in his phone AND written down incase he has a phone issue and I have a trusted neighbor I alert when he is home alone.
- The doorbell! Under no circumstances should your child answer the door when home alone. If you need a neighbor to check in for you, have a secret knock code or alert your child that at a certain time neighbor will knock to check in.
- Check the home! Have a very curious kid? Do a double check that stoves are off (make sure your child knows cooking is off limits home alone), weapons are locked up, all windows/doors are locked as you leave, garage door is shut, etc..
These all seem pretty basic. However, a guide and a plan is great to ease their discomfort as well as your own. It is much better than roaming a grocery aisle and suddenly panicking that maybe you left the back slider wide open and they are vulnerable or you left the stove on!
Even thoughts like, “they do know silverware does not go in the microwave, right?” are scary thoughts so have rules and plan so you are covered and your child is safe.
What can make this even easier on you are two tools I use in my home! The Ring Doorbell and Security Camera and a Wi-Fi, app controlled indoor camera. I can turn off the daily schedule on our Ring and set it to motion alerts so anytime someone approaches our driveway or front door my phone chimes. I know if someone is lurking and I also can see if my son broke any “door answering or inviting friends in rules”. I also have an app for my indoor video cameras that has 2-way talk. I can see if he entered the game room and shut the door and all I do is hit the microphone label and tell him to get off or open the door! I can also have motion as he enters the kitchen and have a view of what he may be getting into. See them grab a large knife to cut or about to stick metal in the microwave I have eyes and a voice to shout out at him. Now that you are covered, let’s do this! They will learn some very valuable skills under your control.
(I left links to what I use below if that helps you get set up for the Home Alone plan)!