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Many parents with commitments must choose between leaving their children home alone during the day and finding alternative caregivers. When the time is right, staying home alone can be a positive experience for children, but it’s a worrisome time for parents. There are precautions adults can take to ease worries and protect kids.

Infants, toddlers, preschoolers and even young school-age children cannot be left home alone. That would be considered neglectful. They do not have the physical ability to care for themselves or cognitive ability to make choices that would keep themselves safe. They need someone older and more experienced doing that for them.

By the time children get to be 8 or 9, parents begin to wonder how old their children need to be to stay home alone. The answer is “it depends.” All children mature differently, so there is no precise age when they are ready to stay home alone. Complicating the situation is that the state of Wisconsin does not have a particular age written into a statute.

Experts would recommended age 12 because the average middle school student has the skills and life experience to make choices that will keep themselves safe. However, there is no guarantee that when kids reach this age they are ready. There are some questions that parents can ask themselves to help determine if their children are ready.

  • Can your child state their full name, address, and important phone numbers?
  • Can he easily use the telephones, locks and kitchen appliances?
  • Can she stay alone without being afraid?
  • Can he be trusted to go straight home after school or playing at friend’s house?
  • Can she handle unexpected situations without panicking?
  • Will she follow your rules and instructions without you looking over her shoulder?

Parents who can answer yes to those questions and feel comfortable leaving their child home alone, they should discuss it with the child and practice what they should and shouldn’t do. Here are some follow-up tips:

  • Stay in touch. Parents should call throughout the day and ask children to call to check in before they leave the house and when they return.
  • Keep kids connected. Post important phone numbers or put numbers on their phone including work and cell numbers, emergency numbers, and neighbors’ or nearby relatives’ numbers.
  • Practice safety. Make sure your child understands what “stranger” and “emergency” mean. Teach 911 and when to use it.
  • Ask “what if” questions. “What if someone is trying to get into the house?,” “What if you get hurt?,” “What if you want to go to a friend’s house?”
  • Set firm rules. Make clear what children are allowed and not allowed to do. Can they use the internet? Can they cook? Can they leave? Can they have friends over?
  • Ease into it. Parents can start by leaving for short amounts of time and gradually increasing it as they and their children gain confidence.

Other considerations

Even if a child seems mature enough to stay home alone, parents will need to think about some other factors. Is the home/ neighborhood safe? How long will the child be alone each day? Is there an adult living or working nearby where the child can go for help? Does the child have special medical, physical or emotional needs?

Want to help?

Call Karen Fetherston at 262-619-1633. Charitable contributions can be mailed to SCAN at 2000 Domanik Drive, 4th Floor, Racine, WI 53404.

SCAN is funded by United Way of Racine County, United Way of Kenosha County, Ocean Spray, and donations from organizations, schools, individuals and businesses.

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