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Leaving kids home alone for the summer

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Child care during the summer months can be a challenge for working parents. It’s harder to find care for elementary age children and expensive too. How do you know when your child is ready to be home alone? If they (or you) aren’t ready for that step, what options do you have?

Girl making sandwich

At what age is home alone okay?

There is no magic age where every child is ready or responsible enough to be left home alone. In general by the age of 11 some kids are ready to be left alone for brief periods but it’s truly a decision to be made by parents and their children.

Important things your child should know before being left home alone

Make sure your child knows how to handle some basic circumstances. You might think it’s enough to tell them to call or text if they don’t know what to do - but what happens if you’re not available or the call doesn’t come through? If your child is old enough to be left home alone, they must be able to handle a few basic situations. Don’t assume anything, talk to them in detail about what you expect and what they should do. In fact, show and tell them what to do and consider doing a practice run so they can see how it feels. Situations to practice:
  • Phone calls (Do they know how to answer the phone? How should they respond if someone asks to speak to a parent? Would you prefer they only answer for certain pre-approved caller IDs? Do they know how to use the phone to call you?)
  • Power outage (Do they know where flashlights are kept?)
  • Someone’s at the front door (Should they answer it?)
  • Basic first aid (Do they know what to do if they cut their finger while making lunch or skin their knee playing outside?)
  • Emergency issues (Do they know when it’s appropriate to call 911? What information should they have ready to tell the 911 operator?)
  • Cooking skills (Show them how to cook some basics for meals or snacks that they’ll need while you’re away. Cook together and then have them cook while you watch. Make sure your child knows how to put out a cooking fire. Keep baking soda, flour or a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.)
A few more tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Clearly post a list of important information for your child:
    • Names and numbers of three neighbors and family members who live nearby
    • Your work and cell numbers (Even if your child knows your cell by heart, if they are injured or panicked, they might forget.)
    • Emergency numbers such as 9-1-1 and next to it your home address and the nearest intersection.
  • Establish check-in times and habits. Have them call or text at certain times of the day - for example, when they get home from school - so you know how things are going. This helps gives you and your child some peace of mind.
  • Make firm rules about having friends over, screen time and playing outside.
  • Teach your child how to switch on a shut-off electrical circuit breaker and how to shut off the water valve on an overflowing toilet or sink. Then leave detailed instructions to help them do it again on their own if needed.
Remember you are giving your child a lot of responsibility and sometimes that can cause stress or worries. The more you can do to prepare them for being home alone the better. It also never hurts to hear your voice or see a quick text so your child knows you’re thinking of them. And if you’re going to be home later than expected - always let your child know.

More guidance from the Indiana Department of Child Services:
When is it okay for your child to be home alone?

Not ready for home alone?

Look into after-school programs run by the school, the local YMCA, Boy’s & Girl’s Club, parks and recreation, or child care programs that offer drop-off/pick-up programs for elementary age children. Talk to your neighbors, perhaps you can split the cost of a summer babysitter or there might even be a stay-at-home parent down the street who wouldn’t mind making some extra money and having your kids come over.

Baby girl with pony tail in white