Dottie Squire is the Resource Development Coordinator at the Child Care Resource Service in the Department of Human and Community Development. She has worked in Resource and Referral for nearly 20 years assisting families and providers in local communities in various capacities concerning child care. She talked to us about parents' concerns about determining when their children are ready to stay home by themselves.
Is there a legal or certain age when a child can be left alone?
No, there is not a legal age that a child can be left alone in self-care. The decision requires a careful evaluation of your child's readiness and willingness to be left at home alone. Every child is different and must be looked at individually.
How can you tell if your child is ready to be left home alone?
Unfortunately, there is no magic sign. Your child should first show a willingness to stay alone. Next there should be signs of their ability to accept responsibility, follow directions, and care for themselves. There should be good parent-child communication so that your child feels comfortable expressing fears or concerns that may arise while the child is staying alone.
How should parents prepare for the first time a child stays home alone?
If you both agree that self-care is appropriate, the next step is providing your child with the necessary information needed for self-care.
Children need to know how to react in situations such as being locked out, afraid, or bored. They need to have rules on issues like leaving the house, having guest, cooking, and snacks. They need to know when and how to use the phone. And they need to know personal safety skills, like answering the door, what to do if someone is in the house when they get home, and what to do if they smell smoke or gas.
How do you know if it is working?
There should always be a trial period for the self-care. This gives your child the option to get out without feeling uncomfortable should they just not be ready for the responsibility.
The Child Care Resource Service has a self-care check list that parents can use to help them with this readiness plan and also a DCFS booklet on "Preparing Children to Stay Alone".