Other than driving, allowing your child to stay home unsupervised may be the scariest rite of passage we parents have to endure. But it doesn’t have to be a dramatic transition. We’ve all seen the MacCaulay Culkin holiday classic, but unlike his comically negligent parents, you can actually decide when and how, and make preparations to let your child stay home alone.
According to Childwelfare.gov, only three states have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home by themselves, but Louisiana isn’t one of them. Age isn’t the only thing to consider, however. The website suggests you think about their individual maturity and past behavior, then ask yourself…
- Is your child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself?
- Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
- How does your child respond to unfamiliar or stressful situations?
- Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?
If and when you’ve decided they can handle the experience, consider these helpful tips:
- Have a trial period. Leave the child home alone for a short time, while staying close to home. This is a good way to see how he or she will manage.
- Role play. Act out possible situations to help your child learn what to do such as how to manage visitors who come to the door or how to answer phone calls in a way that doesn’t reveal that a parent is not at home.
- Establish rules. Make sure your child knows what is (and is not) allowed when you are not home.
- Discuss emergencies. What does the child consider an emergency? What does the parent consider an emergency? Have a code word that the parent and child can use in the event of any emergency.
- Check in. Call your child while you are away to see how it’s going, or have a trusted neighbor or friend check in.
- Talk about it. Encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you about staying home alone. Have this conversation before leaving your child and then, when you return, talk with your child about his or her experiences and feelings while you were away. This is particularly important when your child is first beginning to stay home alone, but a quick check-in is always helpful after being away.
- Don’t overdo it. Even a mature, responsible child shouldn’t be home alone too much. To cut back on frequency, or to appease children who are not ready for this step, consider other options, such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations, or faith-based organizations, to help keep your child occupied and supervised.
Refer to this chart for additional guidelines: