You can never be too cautious when it comes to your child’s well being. The thought of leaving them home alone may raise concerns and leave you questioning their ability to be left unsupervised.
Few states have age requirement laws for leaving kids by themselves unattended. Here are a few guidelines to take into consideration before leaving your child home alone.
Is your child independent enough without you there? Are they able to find solutions for problems without you? Does your child generally make good decisions? Talk through some examples of problems that may arise while you are gone. Make sure your child knows how to lock and unlock doors and can recite your address back to you in case of an emergency.
How does your child react to unexpected situations? Have you enrolled them in any first aid training? Taking a Red Cross babysitting course in Boy or Girl Scouts may help further their knowledge in how to respond in these situations.
Do they know who to call for help? Have a list of emergency numbers that include trusted neighbors, family members and emergency first responders programmed into their phone and/or in a well-known area, such as the refrigerator door.
Are they age appropriate? Because kids mature at different rates, you may want to evaluate your child’s maturity before leaving them alone. According to family.findlaw.com here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind: Kids seven years and younger should not be left at home alone for any period of time. Ages eight to 10 years old should not be left alone for more than one and a half hours, and only during daylight and early evening hours. Children 11 to 12 years old may be left alone for up to three hours, and ages 13 to 15 may be left unsupervised – but not suggested for overnight.
“It is really important to start with short periods of time and build from there to create trust, responsibility and independence,” explains Kari Scovel, a PhD Lp Psychologist in Rapid City. “Have a trial period of time to see how the time alone goes, and try leaving them for a half hour at a time to see how they can do from there to build that confidence. Staying home alone can be a rewarding and important developmental experience for your child with time.”
Written by Priscilla Borrego
Before You Leave
Even after you decide your child is ready to stay home alone, you’re bound to feel a little anxious when the time comes. Taking these practical steps can make it easier for you both:
Set up a schedule for calling. You might have your child call right away if he or she is coming home to an empty house, or set up a time when you’ll call home to check in.
Establish ground rules. Make sure your child knows and understands them, too. Consider rules about:
having friend(s) over
rooms of the house that are off limits especially with friends
TV time and types of shows
Internet and computer rules
kitchen and cooking (you might want to make the oven and utensils like sharp knives off limits)
not opening the door for strangers
answering the phone
not telling anyone he or she is alone
Childproof your home. No matter how well your child follows rules, be sure to secure anything that could be a health or safety risk. These items include alcohol, prescription medication, over-the-counter medications, etc, guns (make sure guns are locked up, unloaded and stored away from ammunition), tobacco, car keys, lighters and matches.
Home Alone Laws
“South Dakota doesn’t have a set law regarding children being home alone,” explains Attorney at Law Jennifer Tomac.