STAYING HOME ALONE
Did you know, Texas law does not say what age a child is old enough to stay at home alone? We know that adequate supervision is necessary to keep your children safe, but what indicates they are old enough to stay at home alone?
Eight Questions to Ask Yourself Before Leaving Your Child Home Alone
1. Does my child seem to be responsible and mature for their age?
Do they use good judgment? Can they understand and follow basic safety rules?
2. Would my child be able to meet their basic needs?
Could they make themselves something to eat or drink? Do they have the basic skills to be able to take care of themselves should you be gone longer than expected?
3. How would they cope in an emergency like a flooded bathroom, a fire, or sudden illness?
Does your child have basic first aid skills? How have they handled unexpected situations? Do they stay calm in situations that don’t go as planned?
4. Would they know what to do if someone came to the door?
Does your child follow your instructions in regards to interacting with strangers?
5. Do they know how to contact me, or other family or friends if they needed to?
Can they use a phone to contact someone if needed?
6. Will I be leaving more than one child at home?
If you’re thinking about leaving more than one child at home, it’s a good idea to speak to them about who’s going to be in charge. If the older child is barely mature themselves, then it is not fair to ask them to look after younger children.
7. Do I need to leave them overnight?
Leaving a child at home for an hour or so if very different than leaving a child overnight. Consider more thoroughly if you have alternative options and if your child has the maturity to handle this responsibility.
8. How do they feel about being left alone?
You may feel like they are ready, but if the child is uncomfortable, it may not be time to leave them alone yet.
Having considered all of these questions, what is your gut telling you?
If you decide to leave your child at home, it might be a good idea to:
1. Set some ground rules.
Are they allowed to use the stove, the microwave, or any of the electronics? Can a friend come over? Can they go outside? Are there rooms that are off limits? Remind them of any other house rules that are already in place. If they have access to social media, this would be a good time to explain the importance of not telling their friends on social media that they’re home alone.
2. Practice scenarios.
Do they know:
- When and how to call 911 and what address information to give the dispatcher
- How to work the home security system
- How to lock and unlock doors
- How to work the phone/cellphone
- How to operate the microwave
- What to do if there’s a small fire in the kitchen
- What to do if there’s a power outage
- What to do if a stranger comes to the door
- What to do if the smoke alarm goes off
- What to do if the tornado siren goes off
- What to do if someone calls for a parent who is not home
3. Make a plan for what they’ll do while you’re away.
Do they have homework or chores they need to complete?
4. Be clear on where you are going and what time you’ll be back.
For a younger child, 30 minutes can feel like a long time, especially if you are out longer than expected. Make sure your child knows what time you’ll be home and where you are going to ease their mind. It is a good idea to touch base should something come up and you are delayed.
5. Check in with them every so often.
It might be a good idea to have some scheduled or spontaneous check-ins, especially if you will be gone longer than a couple of hours or if this is their first time being alone.
6. Make sure dangerous objects are locked away.
Even if a child is responsible, to reduce risk, it is a good idea to lock away all of the following: alcohol, prescription medicines or medicines that could cause problems if taken in excess, lighters, car keys, tobacco, toxic chemicals, and guns.
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If you are worried about a child that is left alone, you can call local law enforcement to do a welfare check at the address. They will make a determination on if that child is safe or not.