Oh no! Summer has almost arrived and you have been so busy at work, you haven’t even had time to think about babysitters. When will you have time to put the word out or interview those sitters that do call with interest? But then again, your child is getting older. Maybe you can leave them...HOME ALONE.
Unlike the movie, you probably won’t accidentally leave your child home as you and the rest of your family go on a vacation. But you could be pondering the idea of letting them stay on their own while you work during the day this summer.
So, how do you know when your child is ready to be left on their own?
Although many states have actual legal ages that you can leave your child home alone, Rhode Island is one of the states that does not have a legal age in force. I spoke with Lt. Patrick Jones of the Tiverton Police Department and he was able to share a few guidelines with us.
“It really depends on the child," he said. "If your child can follow basic safety rules for staying alone, he may be able to be left without adult supervision. Of course, the parent or guardian has to also judge appropriate lengths of time for their absences. As we all know, maturity levels vary from child to child and that is the main reason why it is difficult to just put a specific age down as a guideline.”
I personally prepared my own children when they were young by teaching my children to use real names (as opposed to “Mom” or “Dad”) and I also made sure they knew our address and phone numbers. I then would periodically have them recite the information. I also prepared them by role-playing as if a police officer wanted to question them, or if they needed to call 911 for an emergency, or just asking them some “what if” questions like, “what if the smoke alarm went off when I wasn’t home” etc. etc. Of course, each family is different, with children of various maturity levels and personal needs and preferences for leaving the children alone at home.
Some parents have jobs that they need to be at especially during the summer and vacation days. So if you need to leave your children unattended and you think they may be ready to be left alone for short periods of time, then keep reading.
Here is a partial list of suggestions from both parents and local authorities:
- Make sure they know who to contact in case they have questions, concerns or just want to be able to chat with another person for comfort reasons.
- Make sure they know how to call 911 and what information they need to give the dispatcher.
- Make sure they are comfortable and want to be left alone (some children are more fearful than others and may not want to be alone).
- Make sure you or a designated contact person can be reached AT ALL TIMES during your entire absence.
- Do not leave inexperienced or children who are too young in charge of other children in your absence or leave children you are responsible for unattended without permission of the other parents/guardian.
In general, a child should be able to follow directions, problem-solve independently and not be afraid of the dark or of the quiet.
You can certainly add your own family suggestions and opinions to this article in the comments section below. We would love to hear your opinions!
If for any reason, you do not feel your child is ready, PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE THEM UNATTENDED. Should someone call the police or other authorities to check on the welfare of your child, and the investigating officer should decide that if it is unsafe for them to be left alone, they could be taken into police custody until you can pick them up. At that point, the Department of Child, Youth and Families (DCYF) can investigate your situation and decide if further action is necessary.
There are local organizations and summer programs that may be able to help you with child care arrangements. As always, better to be safe than sorry.