Deciding when you can leave your child home alone during the summer is a judgment call, according to Angela Liddle, executive director of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA).
“It’s a tough question because there’s no answer that fits all circumstances,” Liddle said. “It’s not only a matter of age; it’s also a question of your child’s maturity and the comfort level your child has about being on his or her own for a period of time.”
Summer is most often the time when this question comes up. PFSA offers some guidelines that can help parents with making the decision to say yes or no. Ask yourself these questions:
Has your child demonstrated responsibility in the past? Is your child able to care for himself or herself? Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
How comfortable is your child being alone? Is he or she likely to be afraid?
How long or how often will your child be alone? Will it be during the day or in the evening, at meal times or around bedtime?
Will there be other children as well? Is there an older child who is able to care for younger children? (Don’t just assume that an older child is capable.)
How safe is your neighborhood?
Do you have a safety plan for emergencies? Does your child know his or her address, phone number and how to call 911 if needed? Does your child know how to escape from your house if there’s a fire?
Can your child reach you by phone at all times? Is there a neighbor who can be available to help?
Make sure children understand that you want them to let you know if anything frightens them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
Liddle said, “Even if you can answer these questions in a positive fashion, keep in mind that a child should not be alone too much or too often.”
She said it’s important to help a child get ready for the experience by making clearly understood rules and acting out possible situations to help your child learn what to do in the event there’s a problem. And when your child is alone, you should check in frequently by phone or ask a neighbor to stop by.
If you’re a neighbor of a child whom you know is home alone, you can help out by establishing a relationship with the parents and the child and offer to serve as an emergency contact in the event assistance is needed.