What guidance does the Bible provide?
Leaving your child at home alone for the first time is a big step for you as well as your son or daughter. They will grow and learn to be responsible; they will gain your trust. Your child will begin to show maturity and self-control that they are able to stay alone at home. As your child approaches the age that they can stay by themselves, they can memorize a verse to calm them down when they become anxious. Isaiah 41:10 says "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand." The Lord is with your child even when you are not. This provides children with a sense of peace and comfort that they are not alone and that God is right there with them in their time of need.
Things to think about:
Whether it is a day off from school, an unexpected business appointment or a date night out and the babysitter canceled at the last minute, the time will come that you leave your child home alone. There is no set age that determines whether a child is able to stay home by themselves or not. It is obvious that you would not leave your 5 year old home alone while your 16 year old would be quite comfortable. But how do you determine the in between years? In general, it is not a good idea to leave children under the age of 10 at home alone. Every child is different and determining when your child is ready is up to you and your son or daughter.
Start by thinking about where you live:
- Is there a neighbor that lives close to your house that would be able to check on your son or daughter?
- Are your neighbors mostly strangers to your child?
- Do you live on a busy street where there is a heavier traffic flow?
- Is there a high crime rate in your neighborhood?
Take into consideration your child and how they handle various situations:
- Does your child show signs of taking responsibility (doing their homework, chores, following your instructions)?
- Does your son or daughter understand and follow the rules or your household?
- Does your child understand safety and basic first-aid procedures?
- How does your child react to unexpected situations?
- Does your child follow your rules about strangers?
What do I do now?
Once you have decided that your child is ready to stay home alone, start with a "test run." Leave your child home alone for about 30 minutes to an hour and stay within a reachable distance in case they need you to return quickly. When you get home, ask them how it went. Talk about things that you would change or a skill they might need to learn for the next time that you are away. This will help your son or daughter feel more prepared when you leave them home by themselves.
Talk with your child as you prepare them to stay by themselves. Some things that you will need to make sure your child knows how to do while they are home alone:
- When and how to call 911.
- Their home address.
- Locking and unlocking doors.
- When is it ok to answer the door?
- Working cell/house phones and are there rules for making phone calls?
- Using the microwave/making a snack for themselves.
- Knowing a plan if there is severe weather in the area.
Before leaving your child home alone, make sure that you schedule a time that you will contact them while you are gone. Let them know that you will be calling them to check on them and make sure that they are still doing ok. Be sure to set some ground rules for the time that they will be by themselves. Make sure that your children know what they are allowed to watch if friends are allowed over, what they can and cannot cook, how they should answer the phone if someone asks for a parent, and how to handle not getting along with other siblings (if this pertains to them). Thoroughly prepare your son or daughter for things that you know might happen while you are out. Make sure to leave them a list of phone numbers of individuals that they can call if they need help or become lonely.
As the parent, ensure that your medications, weapons, sharp knives, alcohol, matches, tobacco products or any other item that could cause harm to a child are put away. It is your responsibility to protect your child, even if you are away from the home. Their safety is number one in all circumstances.
Want to go deeper?
This website is an excellent resource for determining if your child is able to stay at home by themselves. There are many other links to other articles that would be helpful in preparing your child to be alone at home.
This article has some good questions to ask yourself in deciding if your child is ready to stay at home alone yet.
This book is about strangers and good rules when coming in contact with them; this would be helpful in setting stranger rules in general.
Irma Joyce and George Buckett. (1967). The Stranger Never Talks. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.