A few days ago, I happened to watch the movie – Home Alone all over again. This prompted the question in my head and I raised it before my Facebook family – at what age did you leave your child home alone? I got many interesting responses. I am compiling those responses along with a few words of wisdom from my side.
What age can a child be left alone at home?
Well, a lot actually depends on your child. If your child –
- Is responsible and matured, and understands the rules set up by you, then you can leave your child even at the age of 5 years.
- Won’t be scared or nervous.
However, most parents think that a child be consciously left alone only once they are 10 years and above. That too only when it was an absolute must for the parents to step out and they were in the vicinity.
I remember I stayed home alone when I was 7 or 8, but the times were different 30 years ago.
Size of the family matters
Most parents agree that if you are staying in a big or joint family, your child is never alone. There is always someone or the other who is there watching over your child when you have to step out. Also, if you have a nanny or caregiver at home, again a child is supervised in your absence. However, the problem arises when you are in a nuclear family set up or a single mother. There will be instances when you have to step out, but you can’t take your child along. What do you do in such circumstances?
A couple of years ago, my daughter was running a fever and was sleeping. I had to step out to get a few medicines and also some ingredients for dinner that night. I left a phone beside my sleeping daughter and stepped out. It must have been 5 minutes or so when I received a call from my daughter asking me where I was. I told her I would be back in 10 minutes and that’s what I did. I repeated to her – she was not to open the door to anyone. So, you see, this situation could happen to anyone. Here are the guidelines for leaving your child home alone.
What your kids need to know before staying home alone?
There are a few rules you should teach your child before you step out and leave your child home alone.
Do not answer the door to anyone
Yes, that’s the first ground rule. It can be their best friend or the neighbour next door, the kids aren’t supposed to answer the door. In fact, they shouldn’t even respond to a doorbell.
So what to do when the doorbell rings? Just ignore. Yes, that’s the safest way. The other person wouldn’t know there’s a child alone at home and would definitely go away.
Do not answer phone calls (unless it is from parents)
If the phone rings, kids mustn’t answer the phone. Let it ring. If their phone has the Caller ID, they can answer phone calls only if it is from parents.
Many people are of the opinion that a child must never answer a phone call. You never know the parents’ phones might have been stolen and misused, in such a case it can be hazardous if the child picks up the call. Hence, ask your child to call every 30 or 60 mins on your phone giving you the updates.
Do not post on social media
Posting on social media that you are home alone is like announcing to all and sundry; you don’t know who is following your child’s activity. Tell your child strictly not to post their home alone status on social media or tell it to their friends.
Do not use the stove or appliances
According to the age of your child, you can ask your child to keep away from the stove, microwave or other appliances like toaster, grill, etc. that you feel can prove to be dangerous for your child.
Do not leave home
Your child is allowed to leave the home in your absence. In case of an emergency, they need to call up the parents. Also, when a child is at home, it is your responsibility to be available on phone at all times.
Do not call friends home
Your stepping out is not an indication that your child can invite friends over. The child should remain alone in your absence unless the friend comes home before you step out and is ready to abide by all the rules that you set out for your child.
Do not fight
Did you just roll your eyes? It’s not unfathomable. It can happen if you have one or more kids at home. Siblings fight over the tiniest things (I remember even pulling the hair of my sister and/or coming to blows).
Tell your kids explicitly they will earn brownie points for not fighting in your absence.
Now, apart from the above mentioned, there are a few more things you need to do before leaving kids at home alone:
Keep all doors locked at home
If you have multiple doors in your home, lock all of them before you leave. When stepping out, double lock the main entrance and make sure that your small child cannot accidentally open it in your absence.
If you are staying on the ground floor, the windows must have grills or stay locked.
There might be people who know the child is alone at home. Your child is not supposed to respond to “Your parents have got hurt. They have asked me to bring you to them.”
A friend, Kalpana Swaminathan did this when she had to leave her child alone for a few hours – She said, “To open the door we had a password. Nobody is informed that he was alone.”
This is a very good tip for such a situation. The password can be something that both the parent and the child agree upon.
Make sure your child is well fed
Make sure your child is well fed before you leave, or at least keep out snacks and drinks for them before leaving, so that they don’t have to climb on stools or chairs and risk falling.
Allow them entertainment
You might need to relax your screen time rule, if you are not around. Let them watch TV or YouTube however do put parental control on what they watch. You can even ask them to read, draw or paint, whatever that keeps them engaged.
Leave when your child is engaged
I had once left my toddler alone watching TV for 5 minutes while I went down to check on some furniture pieces before they were delivered. As she was watching TV, she didn’t realise I was not around. This can be a good tip for when you have to leave a small child alone, however, this is strictly for a very-very short time of absence.
Ask a neighbour to keep a watch
Well, this one you will do as a last resort or only if you trust your neighbour very much. Our neighbours would keep a watch on us all the time when we were small, but as I mentioned earlier, these are bad times and we have heard of enough neighbour horror stories.
I would still advise you tell your child to keep the door locked at all times, and ask the neighbour just to check that the door stays closed.
There is one more thing – I would urge parents not to leave kids home alone especially at night. Kids can be easily scared in case of a power failure (though with an older child of 12+, you can always leave a flashlight).
I think I have covered all the points that parents should know before leaving children at home alone. If you have left your child at home alone and followed some special tips, do leave them in the comment so that other parents can benefit from it. Thank you!