Home alone? Is your child ready?

Parents often wonder when it’s okay to let their kids stay home alone. There is no easy answer to this question. Many states, including Kansas, do not have a specific age allowable by law. The Department for Children and Families suggests that children under 6 years never be left alone, children 6-9 years should only be alone for short periods if they are mature enough, and children over 10 years may be left alone if they are mature enough. (For state specific rules, check your state’s Child Protection Services agency.)

Growing up

Is your child ready to stay home alone?
Is your child ready to stay home alone?

Staying home alone is an important part of growing up. If a child is supervised at all times throughout childhood and the teen years, he won’t be able to move out on his own.

This might be the case if there is a developmental delay or behavioral problems that make it not safe for that person to be alone.

The age at which kids are able to be alone varies on the child and the situation. Parents must take many things into account when considering leaving a child alone.

Maturity of the child.

Age does not define when kids are ready to stay home alone. You must consider how responsible and independent they are.

Does your child know what to do if someone knocks at the door? Can they prepare a simple meal? Do they follow general safety rules, such as not wrestling with a sibling or jumping on the trampoline unsupervised? Will your child be scared alone? Do they know how to call you (or 911) in case of problems or a true emergency? Are they capable of understanding activities that are dangerous and need to be avoided when unsupervised?

Readiness.

Is your child asking for the privilege of being left alone or are they afraid to be alone?

Forcing a child who is afraid to stay alone can be very damaging. Only allow kids to stay alone if they want to and are capable of the responsibility.

Behavior.

Some kids are typically rule followers. Others are not. If your child has problems following rules while supervised, he is not ready to be left alone.

Dangers are more likely to come if kids are risk takers and cannot control their behaviors. House fires, hurt pets, physical fights among siblings, kids wandering the neighborhood, and online behaviors that put kids at risk are but a few ways kids who don’t follow rules can get hurt.

Even if kids used to be able to be unsupervised, things change. If you think a child or teen is depressed, using drugs or there are other concerns, it might not be safe any longer to leave them unsupervised.

Number of children and their ages.

Kids can supervise younger siblings as long as they are mature enough and the dynamics between the two allow for it.

Two kids of similar ages can keep each other company if they are able to be responsible alone and not fight.

Some children can stay alone, but are not yet ready to take care of younger siblings. If they can do it when parents are home, they might be ready for unsupervised babysitting.

In Kansas kids must be 11 years of age to watch non-siblings, but there is no law for siblings. Leaving an 11 year old alone with a baby is much different than leaving the 11 year old in charge of a school aged child!

You must know your kids and their limitations.

Left alone or coming home to an empty house?

When you leave kids home, you can first be sure doors are locked and kids are prepared.

If they will be coming home to an empty house (such as after school), there are a few more things to consider. Will they be responsible to keep a house key? Is there an alternate way in (such as a garage code)? Do they know how to turn off the house alarm if needed? How will you know they made it home safely?

Pets.

If there are pets in the home, is your child responsible to help care for them? Can they let the dog out? Will they be allowed to take the dog for a walk? Do they have to remember to feed the pets?

It’s not just your child’s abilities when there are pets involved. Your pet’s temperament makes a difference. Does your pet have a good nature around the kids?

Neighborhood.

Where you live makes a difference. Do you live on a quiet cul-de-sac or a busy street? In a single family home or an apartment building? Do you have a trusted neighbor that your child can call in case of emergency? Is there a neighbor that your child seems to be afraid of? Are there troublemaker kids down the street?

If you don’t know neighbors what can your child do if there is a problem?

Will they go outside?

You’ll have to set ground rules about leaving the house, which will vary depending on the situation.

Is your child allowed to go outside when you’re not home and under what conditions ~ with a group of kids, with your big dog, on foot only or on a bike, daylight/dark, etc?

If they can go outside who do they tell where they are going and when they will return? Are there area limitations of where they can go? Run through scenarios of what to do if someone they don’t know (or feel comfortable with) tries to talk to them.

Do all the kids play outside after school with a stay at home mom supervising? If you will allow your child to go out expecting that the other parent will be there, be sure to talk with that other parent first to be sure it is okay — the parent might not want that responsibility.

Baby Steps.

Gradual increases in time alone are helpful.

Start by doing things in the home where you tell kids you don’t want to be disturbed for 30 minutes unless there’s an emergency. Let them know it is practice for staying home alone to show responsibility. When they do well with that, try going to a neighbor’s house briefly. If they do fine with that short time alone with you in close proximity, take a quick run to the store. Gradually make the time away a bit longer.

Time of day.

Start with trips during daylight hours when they don’t need to make any meals.

Only leave kids alone when dark outside if they are not scared and they know what to do if the power goes out, such as use flashlights, not candles.

Overnight stays alone are generally not recommended except for the very mature older teen. And then you must think about parties or dates visiting…

List of important things.

Make sure kids have a list of important phone numbers. They should have an idea of where you are and when you’ll be back. What should they do if they have a problem? List expectations of what should be done before you get back home.

Are there any no’s?

While it is impossible to list every thing your child should not do when you’re not home, make sure they know ones that are important to you. Having general house rules that are followed are helpful to avoid the “I didn’t know I couldn’t…” Think about how much screen time they can have, internet use, going outside, cooking, etc. Are they allowed to have friends over? Can they go to a friend’s house if their parents are home? What if those parents aren’t home? Some kids might be ready for unsupervised time at these activities, others not.

Emergencies.

Go over specifics of what to do if …

  • fire
  • electricity goes out
  • someone calls the house
  • a friend wants to come over
  • they are hungry
  • there’s a storm outside
  • they spill food or drink

Quiz them on these type of topics.

Do they know what the tornado alarm sounds like and what to do if it goes off? And do they know the testing times so they aren’t afraid unnecessarily?

Can they do simple first aid in case of injuries? Discuss the types of things they can call you about– if they call several times during a short stay alone, they aren’t ready!

Supervise from afar.

When kids are first home alone, you can call to check in on them frequently. Tell a trusted neighbor that you will be starting to leave your child home alone and ask if it is okay for kids to call them if needed.

Ask how things went while you were gone. Did any problems arise? What can be done to prevent those next time?

Internet.

Internet safety deserves several posts on its own since there are so many risks inherit to kids online.

Be sure you know how to set parental controls if your kids have internet access. Review all devices (computers, smart phones, tablets, etc) for sites visited on a regular basis.

Talk to your kids about what to do if they land on a site that scares them or if someone they don’t know tries to chat or play with them online. Be sure they know to never give personal information (including school name, team name, game location and time, etc) to anyone on line.

If they play games online, remind them to only play with people they know in real life. Do your kids know how to change settings so that the location of photos cannot be tracked through GPS?

home alone.

At some point kids will need to be independent, so work on helping them master skills that they need for life. This includes learning to stay home alone.

 

Teen Dating Violence Prevention & Treatment

As discussed earlier, teen dating violence is a relatively common problem that can occur in any socioeconomic circle. It’s important to recognize teen dating violence, but it’s even better to learn teen dating violence prevention and what to do if you recognize trouble!

Family relationships

How we raise our children from infancy and continuing throughout their lives helps set the expectations for relationships.

Abusive home increases the risk

Teen Dating Violence Prevention & Treatment.Children who are raised in homes with abusive behaviors are much more likely to grow up to be in an abusive relationship.

If your home is not safe make every attempt to make it so.

Stop the cycle!

SEcurity

We need children to feel loved and secure.

Children who feel unloved might look for love in all the wrong places, trying to please others and end up being taken advantage of.

Love unconditionally!

Parenting

Kids need defined limits, but an ability to learn and grow into independence with experience. Being firm and setting boundaries is an important part of being a loving parent.

Parents are NOT their child’s friend.

You don’t need to be a friend to be an effective, loving, parent who is well loved and respected.

As your child grows and matures, it is important that you allow them to take more responsibility for their plans and actions.

Be a role model

Kids need help learning to stand up for themselves and to deal with anger and disappointment in a healthy way. Set an example for this. Life typically presents many opportunities to model these behaviors.

Show healthy communication in your relationships. Use positive phrases, respectful words, and compliment one another.

Don’t let one partner dominate. Take equal share of responsibilities and decisions.

Do things with your significant other and with other people. Expect that your partner will also spend time with others. Don’t be overly jealous. Relationships need trust. Always spending time together isn’t healthy and doesn’t allow you to each follow your own interests.

Respect others in your life and be sure they also respect you.

If you have not learned to control your temper, learn.

Ensure enough sleep for everyone at home, as we are all more short-tempered when tired.

There are many self-help books on this topic and counseling is available if you struggle in your own relationships.

Peer relationships

Friendships and dating relationships provide an opportunity for teens to learn and practice healthy communication, social skills, and managing strong feelings.

Teens need to develop independence while the trusted adults around them provide support and help them stay safe.

Talk to your kids about healthy choices and as they mature, allow them to make more decisions about what they do, when they do things, and who they are around. If you feel they aren’t making safe choices, let them know why.

Don’t be judgemental in how you approach things. There’s no faster way to turn a teen off to a conversation than putting him or her down or by making them feel like they’re being lectured.

Respect

Respect self

Kids should be taught to respect themselves in all they do: eat nutritionally, exercise, get enough sleep, wear helmets, buckle up, stay away from drugs, etc.

Respect others

Kids should be taught to respect others: say nice things, don’t ask others to do things that might cause them harm, respect their personal space and things, etc.

Demand respect

Teens should enforce that others treat them with respect.

If a friend does not treat them with respect, they can try first to talk with the friend about it if they feel safe doing so. If the friend does not change behaviors, they should take a break from the friendship.

Talking to teens

Start before they’re dating

It’s best to start talking about healthy relationships before your child starts dating.

Set expectations for how old they will be when they are allowed to go out in groups of boys and girls as well as when they will be allowed to go on an actual date. How well do you need to know the person they will date?

Talk about what they should do if they find themselves in a scary situation.

Discuss rules for friends coming to the house if you’re not home. Or if they’re allowed to go to a private area or if they must stay in the family room.

Talk about what to look for in a romantic partner, qualities that are important and not just superficial.

Ask how they would like to be treated and how they will treat their date.

Talk about sex. Kids who have sex at young ages are more likely to have multiple partners. Having multiple partners increases the risk of infections and dating violence.

Drugs and alcohol increase risk

Remind kids that alcohol and drugs impair our abilities to handle our emotions and actions. They do not excuse our actions, but we tend to not make good choices when we’re under the influence.

We also put ourselves at risk of a forced sexual encounter when we’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Date rape can also occur if someone slips a substance into a drink, so they should always carry their drink or get a new one from a trusted source.

Starting the conversation

Use opportunities that present themselves to trigger conversations.

If you see people arguing in a television show, talk about what was and was not effective in how they handled the situation. Ask what your kids would have done differently.

If the news reports another #MeToo story, ask what your teen’s thoughts are on the subject. Talk about recognizing unhealthy relationships and how to get out of abusive situations.

Answering questions

If your child asks questions, don’t shy away. Don’t assume they’re too young to hear the answer because if they’re asking, there’s a reason.

You can certainly ask where they’re coming from to help guide your answer, but answer honestly.

If you don’t know what to say, offer to talk about it at a specified time in the near future, such as after dinner that night. That gives you time to think and plan what to say but let’s your child know you want to talk. Don’t forget!

Emotional support

Be there to just listen if your child needs an ear. Offer encouragement and advice. Do this routinely, not just if you’re concerned about a specific issue.

If you always offer an ear without harsh judgement or unsolicited advice, your kids are more likely to keep talking. (Note: Just because they want to talk doesn’t mean they’re ready to accept advice. Ask if you can offer advice and wait until they say yes.)

Remind teens that they are never to blame if someone forces them to do something sexually they don’t want to do. They need to feel open to share this pain with you or another trusted adult so they can get the help and support they need.

preventing teen violence
Preventing Teen Dating Violence. Source: VetoViolence

What if there is an unsafe relationship?

It can be frustrating if your child’s in an unhealthy relationship but isn’t ready or willing to leave.

It can be difficult to enforce ending a relationship. Be careful in how you approach the situation. Consider working with professionals at the school or in the community.

Advice to get out of a relationship will be better received if your teen understands how their relationship is not healthy. Help them understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

They need to know it isn’t their fault and it isn’t under their control how another person acts. Ideally, your teen will be able to make the decision to leave the relationship.

I’ve actually seen a teen get pregnant on purpose because her parents refused to let her see her boyfriend. She decided that they’d have to allow him to see his baby (and by default, her). Of course it didn’t work as planned. She did get pregnant, but it didn’t help her relationship.

If you think they’re in immediate danger, you need to seek professional help.

There are many ways to get help

Abusers often monitor computer and phone use, so use caution.

SafeHome (KC Area)

From a safe computer, click here if you’re in the KC area.  From a safe phone call 913-262-2868. (Phones answered 24/7 confidentially at SafeHome).

Safety Plan (Love is respect)

Love Is Respect has a great safety plan for teens who are planning on leaving an abusive relationship.

DATING MATTERS®

Dating Matters is a free, online course available to educators, school personnel, youth mentors, and others dedicated to improving teen health. Learn what teen dating violence is and how to prevent it through graphic novel scenarios, interactive exercises, and information gathered from leading experts.

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

These resources are designed specifically for teens and young adults. It is managed by the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) and offers  support from trained Peer Advocates.

Call: 1-866-331-9474 Calls are answered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Text: “loveis” to 22522

TTY: 1-866-331-8453

Web: www.loveisrespect.org

 

Teen dating infographic

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