When Kids Are Home Alone

Older Youth

Currently, most states are under a Shelter-at-Home order. Unless someone must go out for necessary items like work, food or medicine, he or she is expected to abide by the rules of Social Distancing.  With more stores limiting the number of individuals that can enter, and with many people still having to physically go to work, parents may be leaving children home alone more often than usual, especially with schools having to close.  We hope these general guidelines will be helpful for you.  There is no right answer for every child.  There is no magic age when a child suddenly becomes responsible and mature.  But there are ways to evaluate your child’s capabilities in order to make a more informed decision.  Remember too, that age in years and age in maturity are very different things. A child who does not know how to respond to a knock at the door, or one who forgets to lock the door, is not ready to be left alone. 

Can your child handle fear, loneliness, and boredom?  These are some emotions children face when they are home by themselves.

Is there a responsible adult nearby – a relative or neighbor – who your child can call for assistance?  Even if you work nearby, there may be times when you are not available.  Who can your child turn to then? Never leave a child with someone you are unfamiliar with or who has exhibited violent tendencies or frustrations with your child

Does your child perform everyday tasks such as fixing a snack, using the phone, and writing messages? 

Does your child regularly solve small problems without assistance, knowing when it’s okay to ask for help?  If your child arrives home to find the front door open, or a window broken, what would be the result?

Are there siblings who will also be home? Does your child manage conflicts with/among siblings without adult help? The best way to answer this is to watch your child with siblings. If your child doesn’t manage well when you’re home, most likely the situation will not improve when you’re away.

Is you child comfortable with the idea of staying alone? Ask! If the answer is no, then it is definitely not a good idea.  A child must feel confident about being alone and self-sufficient for the time you’re away.

When leaving a child at home ensure they know what to do in an emergency.  Discuss with them different scenarios and together come up with a plan that your child can follow.  It is important that your child knows how to call 911 and knows how to reach you.  If you do not feel that your child will be able to contact you, consider taking your child with you. 

Before leaving your child on their own, childproof anything that could be a health or safety risk.  Lock up alcohol, medication, tobacco, car keys, lighters or matches, and especially guns.  If you have a gun in your home, keep it unloaded and the ammunition locked up in a separate area.  Go over basic rules with your child and create a time to call them and see how they are doing.  Remind your child if someone calls, do not tell the individual they are home alone, it may be better if they do not answer the phone at all, even if it is a call to their own cell phone, teach them to not answer to unknown numbers.

Do not allow a child to go online for video gaming while they are alone.  They should only do that with adult supervision since many predators use this method for grooming. 

Children, even older teens, should never be left alone overnight.

Because these times are challenging, it could be beneficial to order groceries, so that a parent is not doing something that is uncomfortable for them.  If this is not an option, and one needs to go out for essentials, talk with your child about staying safe while home alone.  For more resources check out our Facebook page here.  You can also visit our website at www.pcain.org and look for the Home Alone brochure under the materials’ tab.

-Prevent Child Abuse Indiana Team

References

Dowshen, S.  (2018, May).  Leaving Your Child Home Alone.  KidsHealth from Nemours.  Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/home-alone.html

North American Missing Children Association; Latch Keys Kids.