Home alone isn’t just a movie

Are you thinking it’s time to let your children stay home alone this summer? If you are, planning in advance is vital for this huge decision to work out for parents and children alike.

The Census Bureau reports that nearly seven million school-age children across the United States are regularly left home alone each year during the summer months. If you are a parent wondering if this is the year to let your kids stay alone, the planning starts now! Ask yourself the following questions:

How safe is your neighborhood? If you don’t feel your children would be safe enough to be outside without you, then don’t leave them home alone.

Have your children stayed at home by themselves at all yet? The best case scenario is that you have already left them for short periods of time and assessed the outcome. How comfortable were you? How did your kids react? Was everyone ready for this to happen?

Is there a legal age when kids can be left home alone? Michigan does not have a law pertaining to this issue; it is left up to parents to determine if the circumstances, and their children’s maturity level, warrant letting them stay home unsupervised. This does not mean that infants and small children should ever be left alone for any amount of time. As a general rule, the thought is that most children under the age of 12 are not mature enough to deal with possible emergency situations. The National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends this age also. For more information on this specific topic, and to view a state by state comparison to the legal issue of leaving children home alone, visit http://www.latchkey-kids.com/latchkey-kids-age-limits.htm. You may also want to contact your local Department of Human Services.

What topics should be discussed with our kids?

  • Your children need a list of written rules and responsibilities; rules help children feel secure. Include your children in this discussion, keeping the final decision yours.
  • Someone needs to be in charge while parents are gone. Appoint one child to be in charge and explain the expectations as to what this means for each child.
  • What to do in case of emergencies such as fire or injury. Conduct a fire drill or two.
  • What to do if the electricity goes out?
  • Who will take on the role of adult back-up person?
  • Guidelines for how to spend the day. Give children chores to accomplish during the day, make clear expectations regarding internet use, TV time and phone time.
  • Determine if friends will be allowed to visit and if your kids are allowed to visit friends.
  • Will quick trips to the grocery store or library be allowed?
  • Give kids guidelines for what can be cooked and eaten.
  • Let children know what situation demands a call to parents.
  • Parents need to check in with kids during the day. Don’t make this a “check-up call.” Use this as a means of letting your kids know you are thinking about them.
  • Determine what the procedure is for someone arriving at the door or how to answer the phone and what to tell a caller asking for parents. If there is no landline, kids need a cell phone to use.
  • Hold ongoing discussions throughout the summer and tweak as needed. Maybe you change which child is in charge or one of your kids isn’t adjusting well and needs to go into childcare instead. Whatever the issue, the goal is for this situation to work for everyone.

What’s a good way to help my kids remember what we’ve discussed?

Creating a notebook with all the information your children will need is a great way to remind adults and children alike. Enlist the help of your kids to create the notebook and they’ll be more invested in its contents.

The end of another school year is fast approaching and you may have been wondering if this is the summer your kids can stay home alone. With planning, with spouses/partners in agreement and frank discussions with the kids, Michigan State University Extension says that this arrangement can be a safe, positive and successful experience for everyone.

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