Many of you have seen the movie. In this comedy, 8-year-old Kevin is accidentally left behind when his family leaves on vacation. He uses his creativity and problem-solving skills to take care of himself and defend the family home. If you are thinking about allowing your child to be home alone, this movie might make you think twice!
Statistics about kids staying home alone actually are a little scary. Most unintentional injuries and injury-related deaths occur when children are unsupervised. Juvenile crime triples between the hours of 3 and 8 p.m.
All kids eventually get to the point where they will stay home alone. Maybe your child thinks he or she is too old for child care. Maybe you would like to save the money you are spending on child care. Parents often ask, how do I know when my child is ready? Only a handful of states have a legal minimum age for kids to be home alone. South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota do not; it is up to parents to make this decision.
Maturity is the key, but how do we determine this?
- Does your child make good decisions almost all the time?
- Can your child problem solve? When a new situation arises, can he or she think the problem through and come up with a logical, safe and realistic solution? For instance, if you asked the child what to do if someone threatened him or her, and your child wants to use karate as a solution, he or she may not be thinking realistically enough to be alone.
- How does your child respond to stress? If your child runs through the house screaming when the cat throws up, he or she may not be ready!
- How does your child react in an emergency? If your child cries and feels sick at the sight of blood, he or she may need more time to handle being alone.
- Is your child comfortable being alone?
Parents need to think things through
- How long and at what time of the day will the child be alone?
- Will he or she be responsible for siblings?
- Is the neighborhood safe?
- Are parents reachable by phone at all times?
- Is there a backup person your child can call — grandparent, neighbor, friend’s mom?
- Are attractive risks in the house like alcohol, firearms, matches and prescription drugs locked away?
Start slowly when you begin allowing your child to be home alone. Leave your child in charge or on his or her own while you shop or run errands for an hour or so. See how he or she handles this. Think about all the things your child needs to know before being alone.
Teach these things
- How to lock and unlock the door
- How to let parents know that you have arrived home
- Basic personal safety: answering the phone or door, fire safety, severe weather safety, poison prevention
- Basic first aid and when to call 911
- How to use the furnace, air conditioner, microwave, stove, etc.
- Memorize parents’ work phone numbers even if they are programmed into the cell phone
- For leaving the house
- For having friends over
- For eating and cooking
- For using screens, TV and technology
- For chores and homework
- For activities that are allowed
Technology may help keep your child safe
There are many security systems that allow parents to see their child as he or she arrives home. You can add apps to your child’s cell phone with emergency numbers, severe weather alerts and how to do the Heimlich maneuver for choking. Do some research to find ways to use technology to keep kids safe.
Practice situations that may arise when your child is alone. Role playing gives kids practice thinking through a situation and finding a safe and logical solution. One family writes scenarios on strips of paper and puts them in a jar on the kitchen table. Each night during supper, they choose one and discuss different ways of handling it. Here are some examples:
- The dog eats a bag of candy bars
- You are making toast and the toast burns, causing the smoke alarms to go off
- Your two best friends come home with you after school and they have cigarettes
- You are watching TV and the program is interrupted with a tornado watch
- Someone is at the door and he says he is here to check the furnace
- You arrive home after school and the front door is open
Taking a basic babysitting course can be a first step to learning the skills kids need to be on their own. Visit Avera.org/events for information on summer babysitting classes at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center as well as other regional Avera locations. Your child’s safety is always your primary concern. Take the time to educate him or her before he or she takes this exciting step toward independence.