As children get older, all parents eventually face the question of “Is my child ready to stay home alone?” Whether it is for a few minutes after school, or for an hour while mom and dad run a quick errand, this is a big decision for both parent and child. Invariably, the first member of the family to determine the child’s readiness is the child herself. It’s a big step in the life of a child and a parent must delve beyond a child’s enthusiasm and evaluate whether the time is right and whether your child is actually ready. While most kids are eager to stay home alone for the first time, there are those who secretly (or maybe even outwardly) approach this milestone with dread. So, it is important to determine accurately whether your child feels trepidation about being home alone or whether they are emotionally ready for this step. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there are key factors that parents should evaluate when deciding if the time is right for their child.
What is the law?
First of all, let’s consider the legalities. In Michigan, there is no state law that dictates when a child can be left unsupervised. The decision is left to the parents and guardians. However, courts do have specific points they look at when analyzing if a situation rises to the level of neglect. For example, as a rule of thumb, the courts have ruled that a child 10 years old and younger is not responsible enough to be left home alone. When the child is over the age of 10 but under the age of 12, the situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Age versus Maturity.
Usually, the first measurement that comes to a parents mind is age. However, ask any parent with multiple children and they will attest the fact that children reach milestones at various ages. Instead of focusing on age, you may instead evaluate your child’s maturity level based on how he or she has demonstrated responsible behavior in the past. Ask yourself the following questions: Does my child feel comfortable with the idea of being home alone? Or does he display signs of nervousness or anxiety? Does my child obey rules and make good decisions or is she eager to act prior to considering consequences? Is my child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself?
Skills and Safety Precautions.
Discuss the realities with your child. Your child’s mind may race to visions of snacking on candy and watching all the Netflix they can take in. However, reeling the child back in and reminding them of real-life situations they may encounter is the best course of action. During discussions with your child, run through potential “what if” scenarios. Use their answers to open up frank discussions of potential solutions and safety plans you can develop together to handle various situations safely.
Ask questions like the following: What if someone rings the doorbell? What will you do? What if the smoke alarm goes off? Should you call for help or leave the house? How will you decide? If you needed to find a neighbor, which one would you go to?
In law, we often make evaluations based on the “totality of circumstances.” Similarly, parenting decisions often require a comparable approach. Assess the multitude of elements that contribute to a child’s readiness such as personality, emotional maturity, mental and physical traits when making your determination. Keep in mind that this is one milestone every child reaches before adulthood. So, ease into it. Have a trial period, role-play various situations, take time to establish rules. This is just as big a milestone for a parent as it is for the child and you want to make sure that you are both ready for it.