11 Nov When is it OK to Leave Your Child Home Alone
Kids grow up so fast. One day they are toddlers clutching your hand as you cross the street, the next they are smart and responsible, and looking for more independence.
Leaving your child home alone is a big step in independence for kids and should be recognised as a milestone. After all, as parents our job is to take our dependent children and turn them into independent adults.
But how do we know when it’s the right time to leave our kids home alone?
What does the law say?
Every state has its own laws regarding when it is legal to leave kids on their own. In Queensland the Criminal Code says its unlawful to leave a child under 12 years old for an ‘unreasonable time’ without proper supervision and care. While Queensland is the only state to specify an age requirement, every other state also requires that parents provide their children with adequate safety and supervision at all times.
So, what does this all mean? What is an ‘unreasonable’ amount of time and what is ‘adequate safety and supervision’ and how can we ensure that we are giving this to our kids?
What guidelines should we follow?
The law tells us that an unreasonable time will depend on the context. That means we have to take into consideration things like the age of the child, the length of time they were on their own, the reason they were on their own and the capacity of the child themselves.
We are given guidelines rather than hard and fast rules because kids develop emotionally at different rates, making it a highly subjective decision. Some kids might be ready at 10 years old, and some not until they’re 14.
When is my child ready to be home alone?
As parents, we need to look beyond what the law says to try to determine when our children are actually ready to be left home alone. Here are some things to consider.
Are they asking to stay on their own?
Once kids start asking whether they can stay home on their own, that’s a sign that they might be ready. Of course whether we agree depends on a lot of other factors, but if they aren’t asking, they probably aren’t ready.
Do they know how to keep themselves safe?
The next thing you should consider is whether your child knows how to keep themselves safe. Do they know how to call 000 in case of an emergency? Do they know when they can and cannot open the door to someone? Do they know what to do if they slip and fall on the floor?
Your child needs to be grown up enough to make safe decisions even if something unexpected happens.
Are they responsible?
Before leaving your child home alone you will want to know that they are responsible and trustworthy enough to handle it. Will they obey the house rules when you are away? Will they be able to handle the basic tasks required – such as getting themselves food, or getting their homework done?
One way to assess this is to see how responsible they are when you’re around. If they aren’t responsible with you, chances are they won’t be responsible without you.
Are they physically and emotionally ready?
You’ll need to think about whether or not your child can physically manage on their own. Can they reach the lock to let themselves into the house? Can they use a knife to make snacks?
You’ll also need to consider whether they’re emotionally ready. Will they happily do their homework or watch TV while you’re gone, or will they spend the entire time worried and anxious, watching the clock until you return. As parents, we need to be comfortable that our kids can handle the situation calmly and without too much anxiety.
When the time is right?
When the time is right, you’ll want to help them make this leap into independence easily and confidently. Start gradually by only leaving them alone for a few minutes while you pop next door. Then you might increase it to staying alone while you walk the dog around the block. Keep it gradual for the best success.
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
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