Is your child ready to stay home alone?
The school holidays can be a logistical nightmare for working parents. What to do with the kids if you can’t take time off?! Younger children are usually well catered for through holiday clubs – as long as your budget can stretch that far. But once they reach secondary school, children aren’t so keen on playing dodge ball with six-year-olds and often there isn’t much on offer that appeals to their interests. So is it ok to leave them home alone?
The decision on when your child is ready to be left home alone is not always straightforward. The law is not much help as it doesn’t specify an age (though leaving a young child home alone unsupervised for even a short period of time is likely to constitute neglect). The NSPCC has some great advice but ultimately it is left to parents to decide when your unique teen/tween is mature enough.
The most important thing is to sit down together and go through the risks. What could go wrong? What would they do about it? This will help you to gauge their level of readiness but also to set some ground rules and give guidance on what to do in different circumstances. Here are a few ideas for the questions and issues you might want to cover.
The home alone discussion
- Are they going to use any appliances or equipment in the house (microwave, kettle, hair straighteners etc)? Do they know how to use these safely? Do they know what to do (and not do) if there is an electrical fault or fire?
- Are they allowed to leave the house? Under what circumstances? Do they know how to lock the doors? Would they remember to take keys? Does anyone else have keys if needed?
- What should they do if the phone rings or someone comes to the door?
- Who would they contact in an emergency if they couldn’t get hold of you? Do they have those telephone numbers? Do they know the neighbours and would they be confident to go and ask them for help? Who would constitute a safe adult?
- Are they allowed to have friends round? If so, are there certain friends or certain activities not allowed?
- How will you know they are safe? (Relying on them to answer their mobile could leave you in a cold sweat if there is no response!)
Whenever you decide your teen is ready to stay at home unsupervised, don’t jump straight into the deep end. Start with short periods and review how it went. Did they stick to the rules? If not, they probably aren’t ready yet. And if your child is nervous or anxious about staying home alone then it’s best to wait.