Every parent feels some anxiety about the first time they leave their children home alone. It’s a tricky decision to make…when is it appropriate to leave your child or children to their own devices whilst you go shopping or even have an outing without bringing them along?
What the law says
The U.K. law isn’t completely clear on this challenging area of parenting…and for good reason. No two children are the same, so to have one clear law about the issue wouldn’t be a good idea. This is reflected in what’s said about leaving children unattended by U.K. child protection experts; that it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.
The guidance given by the NSPCC is as follows;
- children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
- children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight
- babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
You’ll know when the time is right
Your instinct is usually a good place to start when deciding if your children are ready for the responsibility of caring for themselves for a short period of time. There are some basic skills which should be in place before you make the leap and they are as follows.
- Your child should have enough confidence to make decisions for themselves
- They should know how and when to call 999
- How to lock or unlock doors and windows
- They should understand how to recognise the danger in all its various forms
- They should be articulate enough to use the telephone in an emergency
- They should be trustworthy in relation to the use of electrical appliances
If your child is forgetful, extremely shy or given to panic, then they may not be mature enough to manage if an emergency should arise.
How to prepare your child for their first time home alone
Some children are naturally confident and sensible. Children who have spent periods of time away from their parents, particularly so.
Boarding school can have a profoundly positive effect on children’s sense of responsibility, self-discipline and independence. This co-educational school in Somerset is a boarding and day school where children thrive as they grow and learn about themselves in a safe environment.
It’s this innate confidence which all parents should strive to encourage and facilitate in their children prior to their first time alone.
Here are some top tips to help your child prepare for their first time home alone:
- Talk to them about any concerns which they may have – some children worry about what to do in very specific situations; “what if someone knocks on the door?” for example.
- Approach it from a positive standpoint. Instead of listing what could go wrong, focus on how you trust them to act correctly if something did go wrong.
- Show them where the power supply is located and explain to them what to do if the power goes out. They should understand what a trip switch is and what it does.
- Ensure there are no risks in plain sight such as firearms, tobacco or electronic vaping devices, car keys, medication, alcohol or damaged electrical items.
- Set ground rules and ensure that your child fully understands them.
Ground rules should be discussed and properly understood. Ensure your child has an opportunity to ask for clarification on the rules. A good set of rules could look something like this.
- No friends to visit whilst the child is alone
- Internet usage rules
- Cooking rules; for example, no deep frying
- Not telling anyone they are alone at home
- Not answering the door
Once your child has managed their first period of alone-time at home, both your and their confidence will soar and they will begin to develop more personal confidence and self-esteem. Make sure to have a de-briefing afterwards so your child can discuss any concerns they may have had…and of course to celebrate this first step towards their more grown-up self!