As a health educator who has taught thousands of kids in our Home Alone Staying Safe classes, I have heard it all, from funny to frightening. One student said, “Mom will let me stay home alone but not my older sister because she is not very responsible and would probably burn down the house!”
This statement, humorous as is, has a lot of truth in it. There is no law in Massachusetts about when a child can stay home alone. If you look to one of the few states that do have a law regarding minimum age for leaving a child home alone, the benchmark varies widely. In one state, the minimum age is eight years old, while in another, it is 14 years old.
Most children tell us they love to stay home alone—especially when the adults have to run errands. But a child’s readiness to stay home alone has less to do with a specific age and lots to do with your child as an individual.
Here are four questions to ask yourself when determining if your child can be left at home unsupervised:
What are my child’s personality traits? A child that’s left home alone should be mature and assertive. Is he or she a nervous worrier, or calm under pressure? If something goes wrong, it’s important that your child can make good decisions and keep calm.
Is my child responsible? Some children are aware of their surroundings. Others are more likely to forget something on the stove, or be distracted by a phone or video game. Teach your child that staying home alone is a privilege that comes with great responsibility.
Is my child’s environment safe? Readiness also depends upon your neighborhood and home environment. Would your child have access to a trusted neighbor who can help in a pinch? Would your child have to care for pets? It’s always a good idea for adults to start with some short dry-runs. Head to a nearby location for a few minutes at a time. Be sure to address your child’s specific concerns before you leave and after you return.
Does my child have the skills to stay home alone? There are important things a child should know before being left at home alone, including how to call 911, knowledge of fire safety and emergency numbers, and your family rules.
It’s only a matter of time before most children will stay home alone, whether it’s been carefully planned or the result of an unexpected circumstance, like a late babysitter or an early bus. Making sure that your child’s experience goes well is something you can and should prepare for in advance.
Still not sure your child is ready? South Shore Medical Center has partnered with South Shore Safety to offer your child Safety Education classes, such as “Home Alone, Staying Safe.” This 3-hour program prepares kids in 4th-6th grade for situations that can happen when staying home alone, from the unexpected knock on the door to the 911 emergency phone call.
The next class meets from 9AM-Noon on Saturday, April 14 at South Shore Medical Center in Norwell. The class costs $45 per child. Please call 781-681-1363 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register or for more information.