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Is Your Pre-Teen Ready To Stay Home Alone?

It is difficult to decide if your preteen is ready to stay home unsupervised. It is a mistake to rely solely on age. Though many 10-year-olds are ready to stay home unsupervised, some 11-year-olds aren’t mature enough and some 9-year-olds more than ready. Though one can never be completely sure of how a child will act in an emergency, a good way to determine whether your child is ready is by combining age with other criteria.
Can your pre-teen handle emergencies? Watch to decide if he or she shows reasonable behavior when choosing independent activities, isn't habitually forgetful or oblivious to their surroundings and is self-sufficient (won't starve without you!). If you're unsure how your child will behave when no one is around, try leaving him for a short period of time at first and see how he does. Gradually working up to an hour or two will ease both your mind and your child's.
Discuss the rules with your child. Lock the door on your way out, and make it clear that they shouldn't answer the phone or the door. Kids should not advertise they are home alone. Sometimes parents will tell their children it is okay to fib about where they are, suggesting an adult is still on the premises. If a home has caller ID, parents might allow children to answer calls from familiar callers. Those without caller ID can try developing a signal, such as two rings, to notify kids that a parent is calling.

Be sure to go over what to do if a stranger knocks on the door. A good rule of thumb is to tell the child to ignore a knock at the door, and to contact an adult about it by phone where his voice won't be heard. An open door is an invitation for danger. Be sure the child knows that he can't go anywhere, even outside, unless given prior permission. This will also protect the child from strangers. If a child is not be able to understand the importance of these safety precautions, they are probably too young to stay alone.

Low-risk meal prep is another concern, kids need to be able to feed themselves without worrying about injury. Showing them how to prepare meals without a stove is a great way to prevent fires.

An emergency probably won't happen while you're not home ... but in the event that it does, your child needs to know what to do and which calls to make. Before leaving them home alone make sure you do the following:

Teach your child basic first aid

Leave emergency contact numbers by the phone. Be sure to include 911 (discuss when it would be appropriate to call), cell phone numbers for you and your spouse, poison control, a close neighbor and a nearby friend or relative. It's also smart to leave the number for an out-of-state relative or friend since local lines can be tied up due to a nearby emergency.

Create an emergency evacuation plan. Discuss two escape routes for each room. Practice your evacuation plan. Talk about disasters that could happen in your area, such as wildfires, earthquakes, floods or severe snowstorms. Teach your child what station to turn to on the radio for instructions if a disaster occurs.

Each child is different and only you can determine whether your child is mature enough to handle the responsibilities of staying home unattended. Allowing mature children this next step towards independence can be a boost to their self-esteem, if they are truly ready to handle it. Be sure to stay informed about state laws that might require a child be a specific age before they can be allowed to stay home alone.

Read the next parenting article on the age of independence >>
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