When is My Child Old Enough to Stay Home Alone?
It’s that time of the year again. Thoughts of summer vacation lead some parents to questions such as: “Is my child old enough to stay home alone?”
In only five of our 50 states is there a specific law stating the age a child may be left home alone, but Mississippi is not among them. Instead of a law, Mississippi has suggested guidelines. The Mississippi State Department of Health offers a Child Safety Checklist which can be used as a starting point. It is suggested there that parents do the following:
- Post emergency numbers by every phone in the home: 911, pediatrician, poison control center, nearest health clinic or hospital, and close neighbors.
- Make sure your child knows how to use the fire extinguisher, and adults should test the extinguishers often. Keep the fire escapes clear, have a plan for leaving the home in a fire, and have frequent fire drills.
- Set up a password that only the parents and child know. If a stranger or acquaintance should come to the door and tell the child that something happened to the child’s parents — and that the child has to “go somewhere” with the stranger or acquaintance — there has to be a way for the child to know whether this is true or not. To help solve this, the child could ask the person for the password, and should not agree to leave the house unless the stranger knows it.
- Hot water burns many children. You can prevent this by turning your water heater temperature down to 120 degrees F. If you rent, ask the landlord to turn the temperature down or put anti-scald devices on the tub and sink faucets. These devices will turn the water off if it gets hotter than 120 degrees F. Also keep matches and lighters out of the child’s reach.
Rearing a child is hard work, with many difficult decisions. Now, consider your answers to the following questions. You’ll notice they have nothing to do with the child’s age.
- Is the child responsible, mature and able to be unattended?
- Does the child understand not to open the door to strangers, under any circumstances?
- Does the child understand the importance of not sharing on Facebook — or other social media — the fact that he or she is home alone?
- If there is a computer in the home, are parental controls installed?
- Will there be other children present? (If so, bad, bad, bad idea.)
- Do you live in a high crime area? (If so, also a bad idea to leave a child home alone).
- Does your child understand he/she is not allowed to use the stove? You can leave food, like sandwich-makings, that do not require heating up.
- Is your child willing to run through “what if” scenarios? Watch for the eye-roll here. Kids want you to think they already know everything and that nothing bad could happen to them!
So, the final answer to our question about when to leave a child home alone is: there is no set answer for everyone. It all depends upon your particular child and your particular circumstances.
If you decide to let your child stay home alone, test your own comfort level. Moms and Dads, follow these guidelines and trust your intuition, and you’ll probably make the right decision.
Judy Holmes and her husband, Richard, live in McComb, Mississippi. Her hobbies include reading and writing short stories, articles and essays. She works in childcare.