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Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?

Let's start with a benchmark used by many child development experts: Kids usually aren't mature enough to stay home unsupervised for long periods of time until the age of 11 or 12. This is not an iron-clad rule. Some 10-year-olds are very mature and some 15-year-olds aren't. The heart of the matter is how well your child will handle the responsibilities of caring for himself and staying safe. If there's a fire, for example, will he leave the house immediately, or will he run around inside trying to save the cat? Would he panic if he sliced his finger on a kitchen knife or eyed a stranger on the front porch?

Another issue is how long the child will be on his own. Some children are quite content to be alone for a couple of hours, but become lonely during longer stretches. Will it be dark when you arrive home during the winter, and will that make him—or you—nervous?

Self-Care Readiness Quiz
Answer Yes or No to the Following
  • Will your child follow the rules you set?
  • _____
  • Does he usually use good judgment?
  • _____
  • Has he handled himself well when left for brief periods of time in the past?
  • _____
  • Is he able to manage simple chores such as taking phone messages or fixing himself a snack?
  • _____
  • Does he have the self-discipline to complete his homework without adult supervision?
  • _____
  • Does he follow directions well?
  • _____
  • Is he good at problem-solving or does he leave that up to you?
  • _____
  • Does he cope well when unexpected situations arise?
  • _____
  • Is he expressing interest in staying home alone after school?
  • _____

    Watch Out!

    Some communities have laws governing how old a child must be if left home alone. Sometimes, the age limits differ depending on whether the child is alone in daytime or at night. Some laws cover the minimum age a child must be to be left in charge of other children. Contact your local law enforcement agency or child welfare department to see whether your community has such laws.

    If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, that's a good indication your child would be responsible and mature enough to stay home alone. But, your child's maturity isn't the only consideration. You also have to decide whether your neighborhood is safe. It's not just a question of crime statistics, but whether there are any close neighbors at home during the day that your child could turn to if he needed help.

    Finally, how do you feel about it? If you're going to worry so much or feel so guilty that you have trouble remaining productive at work, it's probably better to postpone self-care for a while.

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    Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Child Safety © 2000 by Miriam Bacher Settle, Ph.D., and Susan Crites Price. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

    To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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