Contents

3 When is my child ready to stay home alone?

Is being at home alone the only alternative? Deciding whether your child is ready

11 Reviewing the rules about safety Ten Home-Alone Safety Tips

19 Getting started

Planning your child's home-alone day Daily Activity Plan Keep Checking In

27 What to do if: preparing your child to handle emergencies

31 Questions parents often ask about leaving a child home alone

33 Resources

35 Telephone chart

When is my child ready to stay home alone?

"A lot of it is All along your child has been taking small and big steps knowing your toward independence. Going off to school, taking child, knowing the bus, riding a bike, sleeping away from home for the what your first time. Being home alone is one more big step child is comfort- in the journey toward independence. able with. You How can you know when your child is ready have to adjust to take this new step? How can you help your child everything stay home alone safely and confidently, so that to the needs the arrangement feels comfortable for all of you? There of your child." are answers to these questions in this booklet. an Illinois Perhaps you are considering leaving your child home mother alone because he has "outgrown" going to the babysitter's.

Or is resisting going to the after-care program at school. Child care is also difficult to find for older children at that "in between" age between late childhood and early adolescence. It's costly, too.

Many children reach an age when they want to be left home alone a couple afternoons a week. Perhaps your child is at that stage.

It's complicated trying to balance the load of a busy work life with the needs of a school-age child who is starting to be more independent but has never been in charge of caring for himself. Is a fifth grader who wants to stay home alone two afternoons a week ready for this responsibility? Is there a magic age when a child "graduates" to the next stage of development and is ready to be home alone?

Experts agree there is no one right age for leaving a child home alone. Every family's circumstances are different, from parents' work schedules to the ages of their children to the kinds of neighborhood support available to the child who might be home alone. And all children are different. Just as every child walks at a different age, every child matures at a different pace. One sixth grader may be ready to handle afternoons home alone—remembering his house key, being responsible about homework, and feeding the dog—while another child of the same age may find this to be too much responsibility. Parents are in the best position to decide when a child is ready, after carefully weighing both the advantages and the risks involved in leaving children by themselves.

As you read through this booklet, you will be given advice about how to decide if your child is ready. You will begin by asking yourself questions about your child, to measure his or her maturity. You will also be given practical tips, to help prepare you and your child for this new phase of independence. The more tips and information you have at your fingertips and can share with your child, the better off you all will be.

No parent can foresee all the "what-ifs" and unexpected events that can come up during a child's time home alone. For instance, does your child know what to do if she gets locked out? Does she know how to handle a crank call? Or what to do if she burns her finger when you're not there? Typical what-ifs like these are reviewed in this booklet. Over time, you can teach your child how to handle such emergencies with calm.

Perhaps you and your child will want to read through parts of the booklet together, stopping along the way to talk about the issues and situations it covers. In the section titled "What To Do If" you might encourage your child to try to answer the list of questions with you.

Spending time home alone is a big and challenging responsibility for any child, and a major milestone in your child's journey toward independence. You will want to evaluate how much time alone you think your child can realistically handle. Do you anticipate her being home without you one afternoon a week, or five?

A child's time home alone is unsupervised time, but that doesn't mean it should be unstructured. You will want to help your child learn to organize her time alone so she doesn't become bored, lonely, or rely on too much TV. You will also want to provide her with clear guidelines and rules.

Being home alone can give a child a sense of responsibility and competency. It can teach resourcefulness, foster self-reliance, and help your child build coping skills. Ideally, a child's time at home alone should strike a balance between being relaxing and being productive. Every parent's challenge, once they've chosen to leave their child home alone, is to try to find ways to achieve this balance.

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