In Victoria it is an offence for a person responsible for a child to leave the child unattended for any longer than is reasonable. But what is reasonable? An hour? An afternoon?And does the environment matter? Are children safer if left alone in their own home as distinct from out in public?
Knowing when your child is ready to stay home alone and when you are ready for them to do so is one of the milestones along the child development journey. And there is no hard and fast rule that at a particular age all kids (and their parents) are ready to reach that milestone.
It is understandable that trusting your kids with your home, all its contents and their own safety is enough to cause parents real concern, especially when they are at that pre-teen stage of 9 to 12 years. Concerns are warranted, but there are real benefits to leaving preteens home alone – benefits for the child and the rest of the family: That little bit of freedom will foster a sense of responsibility. And – you might actually be able to get out for some kid-free time.
How to know if they are ready
Most experts say that by age 10 or 11, it’s OK to leave a child alone for short periods of time (under an hour) during the day, provided they’re not scared and you think they’re mature enough to handle it. But you may want to wait another year or two before leaving them alone at night.
The things to ask yourself to evaluate if the time has come to leave your child home alone:
- Do you live in a peaceful rural or residential neighbourhood?
- Does the area have a low crime rate?
- Do you have an alarm system? Does your tween know how to operate it?
- Can your child understand and follow basic rules, like locking the door after coming inside and not opening it for strangers?
- Has your child shown good judgment in past situations?
- Do you have friends, family members, or neighbours who can get to your house quickly in case of an emergency?
- Has your tween shown signs of responsibility in the past
- Is your preteen comfortable with the idea of staying home alone or are they likely to be scared?
And the things to discuss with your child:
- How does your child feel about staying at home alone?
- What will your child do if strangers come to the door? (Neighbourhood Watch advises to teach your kids to yell “Mum – there is someone at the door” if there is a ring or a knock and they are not expecting anyone).
- What will your child do if the phone rings?
- What activities are allowed if your child is home alone?
- What activities are not allowed? ·∙
- How should your child contact you? ·∙
- Who should your child turn to for help and how (if your child can’t contact you)?
- What is an emergency? What should your child do?
Preparing some support material for your child
Make a list of emergency phone numbers that includes:
- Your mobile phone
- Family members who live nearby
- Triple Zero
Prepare you home by checking the following items:
- Smoke alarms
- Wiring and safety switch
- Window locks if on second storey
- Dangerous objects and medications hidden away
- Door locks working and easy to use
- Alarm (if applicable)
- Hot water temperature
- Spare keys
- Parent lock on TV/Streaming/Channels
Before you let your tween stay home alone test out some scenarios that you have addressed above. For example?
- “A stranger is ringing the doorbell. What do you do?”
- “The fire alarm is going off. What do you do?”
- “The power goes off. What do you do?”
- “Your sister is throwing a temper tantrum. What do you do?”
And now you should both be ready to give staying home alone a go. Despite having discussed all the above, you want to ensure that you and your child are calm. For the first attempt, only leave your child for 30 to 60 minutes at the most. Once that goes smoothly, check that both of you are feeling comfortable and give it a longer try next time.