Leaving your tween home alone for the first time is a major milestone. Not only does it significantly increase your child’s level of independence, but also your own. It’s a chance to build trust and also an opportunity to gauge what skills they still need to develop. There are real risks in leaving children home unsupervised and it’s not a decision that should be made hastily.
Before leaving your child alone, it’s important to make sure they possess the necessary maturity and comfort level. Consider how your child handles responsibilities like homework or chores without direct supervision. Can you trust them to follow your rules and meet expectations? Do they exhibit good judgment in new or stressful situations? If you’ve answered satisfactorily, it’s time to prepare your child for their first solo stint at home.
Stay in Communication
Setting up solid communication channels is the first step in preparing your child for staying home alone. Encourage your child to talk freely about their thoughts and feelings about being alone. Thoroughly address any fears or concerns they may have. Check with them again after their first experience staying home alone and address any additional concerns that arise.
Unless you still have a landline, you’ll need to provide your child with some alternative means to keep in touch. Tablets and computers offer chat platforms that help you stay connected but these options can’t make emergency calls. However, you might not be entirely comfortable with your child having a regular cell phone. Instead, try a phone for kids with limited features for added safety and peace of mind.
Establishing check-ins with your child at regular intervals is also beneficial. Maybe you would like a call once they get home from school. Or you might want to get a text every hour to ensure all is well. Your child should know when you’ll be available and when you will not. It’s also helpful to have a list of other people they can call if they get scared or lonely.
Create Emergency Plans and Safety Lessons
Take ample time to have conversations about how to handle possible emergencies. Children should know exactly what to do in an emergency and how to contact 9-1-1 if necessary. Have plans in place for things like fires, bad weather, accidents, or injuries. Practicing fire drills, 9-1-1 calls, and basic first aid are hugely beneficial. Building these skills is not only life-saving but it can also increase your child’s confidence while they are alone.
Basic safety talks are also vital. Ensure your child knows not to answer the door while they are alone. They should have a firm understanding of internet safety if they have access to computers, phones, or tablets. Let them know what household items or activities are unsafe while alone. The Red Cross offers safety classes and a first aid app to give your child tools for whatever may arise.
Finally, childproofing your home is always a sound idea. Keep any weapons or power tools locked away securely. Make sure alcohol or prescription medications are inaccessible. You may want to keep chemicals, poisons, or other toxic items that could cause injury away from your child, too.
Outline Rules and Expectations
Clearly defining rules and guidelines helps give children a sense of what to expect and how to behave. It’s important to be specific and even put these ground rules in writing where they can easily see them. Ensure that your child fully understands these rules before leaving them alone. Some common rules might be:
- Not answering the door or the phone
- No having friends over
- Not using the stove or oven
- No going outside without permission
- Screen time limits
- Internet usage rules
Giving them a list of what to do with their time is as helpful as telling them what not to do. You can have them work on homework or chores while you are away. You might also give them the responsibility of fixing themselves a snack. Be sure they have the skills necessary for whatever tasks you assign. This will help them keep busy (and hopefully out of trouble) until your return.
Get in Some Practice
Once you have gone over all of the basics with your tween, it’s time for some quizzing and practice runs. You might do walkthroughs of the more complicated tasks they must complete, such as disarming the house alarm. Ask them to talk through how they would handle common scenarios or where to find important information.
Doing a brief practice run before leaving them for longer will test their readiness for the real thing. Leave them alone while you go visit with the neighbors or make a trip to the gas station. The more practice you give them, the more secure they’ll feel when you actually leave them home alone.
Limit time away to an hour or less until you know your child has a handle on being home alone. Leaving them alone with siblings isn’t advisable until you are sure they are entirely comfortable. As an extra precaution, you might also let a neighbor or two know your child will be home. You can let your child know that their neighbor is on standby if anything should come up.
There is no one-age-fits-all approach when it comes to leaving your child alone for the first time. Use good judgment and have plenty of conversations with your child beforehand. Take ample time to prepare them for what to expect and things they might not anticipate. Use the opportunity to teach additional life skills and tap into new resources of confidence. If you prep them sufficiently, they will be ready to navigate this exciting new responsibility.
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