Does my child still need a sitter?

Factors to consider when deciding if your child is mature enough to stay home by themselves after school.

Most states do not have laws regarding what age children are allowed to stay home alone and Michigan is no exception. Regardless of whether or now there is a law, parents/grandparents know their children best and with the following questions to factor in, can make the decision if their children are ready to stay home alone. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to think about these factors when determining if your child is ready to be left home alone:

  • Does my child feel comfortable, confident and willing to stay alone? If your child is not ready for this step, don’t leave them home alone, they need more time?
  • How safe is our neighborhood? If you don’t feel your neighborhood is safe, you may not want your children home alone.
  • Are there neighbors close by that you know well and trust? Let them know your children are home alone. You may even want to enlist their help in checking up on your children through an unannounced drop-in. They’ll be able to gauge how it is going by the way your children are acting.
  • Does my child understand the importance of safety and know at least basic safety procedures? You may even chose to enroll your children in a basic first aid class. Check with your local hospital or American Red Cross office.
  • Has my child shown good problem-solving skills? If fantasy solutions are still part of your child’s way of solving problems, they are not ready to be alone. Super heroes will not come to save them.
  • Has your child learned to trust their instincts about “iffy” situations and maybe more important; remove themselves from those situations? Teach your children to trust their feelings of being uncomfortable and problem solve how they can stay safe.
  • Have you gone over the “what if” situations with your child? This is one of the most important “games” you can play with your children. Ask them about potential situations they may have to deal with such as, what if the electricity goes off? What if someone you don’t know comes to the door?
  • How are emergency’s handled in your family? We learn what we experience; if you stay calm, your children will also, keeping everyone safer.
  • Has your family practiced fire drills? If your family has done this on a regular basis, your children will know what to do even if you aren’t home.
  • Does your child know the procedures for calling 911? Children need to know their address, phone number, closest cross street/road and landmarks near the house. This information can assist dispatchers when sending emergency personnel to your house.

Transitioning your child to a higher level of independence doesn’t happen overnight. If you think your child is ready, you can make sure they know all the important safety and house rules. Talk to your child about their feelings about being home alone. Start small, with short periods away and gradually increase the time you are away if/when everyone is comfortable.

For information on safety for kids at home or at play; some helpful resources are:                          

http://michigansafekids.org

http://kidshealth.org

http://www.nncc.org (National Network for Child Care)

While there is no magic age when children are ready to be left alone and this is an individual decision; most children are becoming ready to spend time at home alone around age 10 or 11. (Notice: this is not a recommendation, it is merely a suggestion). You need to decide if your child is mature enough to handle unexpected situations safely and responsibly.

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