Steps To Determine If Your Child is Old Enough To Stay Home Alone
In today’s society, children caring for themselves have become a way of life for many families. According to national statistics, as many as a million children in the United States care for themselves on a regular basis. These families, commonly referred to as latchkey families, are increasing. Many school age children may do a good job at caring for themselves and younger siblings. However, as parents, you must make certain that your child is old enough to act appropriately in emergency situations, as well as mature enough to handle the problems, fear and anxieties children experience when being left alone.
Before you decide if you child can be left in a self-care situation, answer the questions outlined in Steps 1-4 concerning your child. Then you, as parents, need to evaluate your child and ask yourself “Is my child mature and responsible enough to care for himself?”
Step 1 - Does your child know the following?
A. Identifying Information
- His/her full name
- His/her full address
- His/her phone number
- Directions to his/her home. Your child needs to know the answers to these questions in case he/she is lost, in danger, or trying to get the police of fire department to your home. Remember that some homes are isolated from the main roads; therefore, directions are very important.
B. Important Phone Numbers
- Police Department
- Fire Department
- Poison Control
- Parents Work Number
- Neighbor’s number or some other back up person when the parent is not home
These numbers should be posted directly by the phone. Your child should always have someone he/she can call in emergency situations.
C. Use of the Telephone
- Can your child operate a telephone?
- Does your child know how to call the operator?
- What does your child say when someone asks, “Are your parents home?”
Your child should NEVER tell anyone that his parents are not home. This sets the child up for a potentially dangerously situation.
D. Locks and Keys
- Can your child lock and unlock the door to your home?
- How does your child gain entry to your home?
If your child carries his/her own key, make sure the key is not visible. A child wearing a key around his/her neck is a sure sign that he/she lets himself into the home. The child who wears a key becomes vulnerable to strangers.
Step 2 - Have you taught your child what to do in the following situations?
- What is your child suppose to do if he/she injures himself and you are not home?
- Is your child allowed to cook on the stove? If so, what would your child do in a cooking accident?
- Is your child allowed to answer the door or play outside when you are not home?
- What would your child say if a stranger approached him?
- What would your child do in case of a fire?
- What would your child do if the electricity went out?
- Does your child call you when he/she gets home from school?
- Is your child allowed to leave home and visit friends when you are not home?
Step 3 - If your child is caring for younger siblings, ask these questions:
- Has authority been given to one child to act as leader? Do the other children accept this sibling’s leadership and obey accordingly.
- What form of discipline do your children use between themselves to maintain order? Is the form of discipline safe?
- Do your children get along with one another when you are not present?
- Do your children physically fight between themselves?
Step 4 - Answer these questions about your child:
- Is your child afraid to stay home alone?
- Has your child ever played with fire or any other dangerous objects?
- Does your child have unexplained seizures, blackouts or show any sign of violent aggressive behavior?
- Does your child have a handicap that requires special care and supervision?
- Has your child told you that he/she does not want to stay home alone?
- Are you inaccessible by telephone?
- Does your child go easily to strangers?
- Do you live in a safe neighborhood?
If your child does not know or cannot respond in a safe manner to the items in Steps 1 and 2, then your child (ren) may not be responsible or mature enough to stay home by himself.
If some grave concerns arise as a result of answering questions in Step 3, then you, as parents, should evaluate your child (ren’s) ability to stay alone for their own safety and well being.
If you have answered “yes” to any of the questions in Step 4, there is a strong possibility that your child is not ready to be left in a self care situation.
Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Lynnette & Thomas Long who are the authors of “The Handbook for Latchkey Children and Their Parents”. Some of their ideas have been incorporated in this pamphlet.
As a parent, you hold the responsibility of making the ultimate decision concerning your child. The State of Maryland does not provide us with an age children must reach before they can be left alone. The Unattended Children’s Law states a person who is charged with the care of a child (ren) under the age of 8 may not allow the child to be locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person is absent and the dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle is out of the sight of the person charged unless the person charged provides a reliable person at least 13 years of age to remain with the child to protect the child. Also, the child neglect law requires that children under the age of 18 receive supervision appropriate to their age and development.
As parents, you must make the best decision to ensure that your child is safe and secure.