Anyone who’s had children knows that this is a very touchy subject. A neighborhood family with whom your family is friendly sends over a child that’s only a year older than your son the next time you ask them for a babysitter. Or your friends with children of a similar age have started leaving their sons and daughters home alone while you’re still calling for a babysitter whenever you want to head out to an adults-only dinner or on date night. There’s not a set age at which your child becomes responsible, so how do you decide when it’s the right time to leave them home alone?
And it’s not just about your leisure time, either. With so many single parents or households where both parents work long hours, it’s often difficult to afford daycare, especially if you have multiple children. If your child has proven they are responsible enough to care for themselves at home alone, that’s a major financial relief. But just because something is a major financial relief, this doesn’t mean that you won’t spend the rest of your workday, or your first night out without a babysitter at home, worrying about your child’s safety.
Home Security Measures
There’s nothing wrong with worrying, but you don’t need to worry yourself to death. In addition to making sure that your child is mature and responsible enough to be left home alone, there are a great deal of modest home security measures you can take to decrease the chances of needing to rush home early.
First, open lines of communication with your child. Are they ready to be left home alone, or do they feel pressure from their friends who are already doing it? Make sure you pay close attention to whether you think they want this responsibility.
Next, be sure that you have equipped them with the right information to feel safe. You know the walk-through you do with the babysitter? Do the same thing with your son or daughter. Show them where the important phone numbers are found. Make sure that they know your cell phone and the number of a trusted nearby neighbor by heart. Program emergency contacts into the phone and show them which buttons to push. It’s not micromanaging: it’s taking the right number of steps to keep your child safe when you’re not there.
It’s also particularly important to establish what steps around the house should be taken while you’re not there. If you have a home alarm, be sure that your child is taught how to arm it and disarm it. Make sure they know the code for the alarm system, and stress to them that they are under no circumstances to share that code with anyone, not their friends or girlfriend or someone who calls. Speaking of phone calls, if you don’t have call-waiting, stress to your child that they not spend the entire time you’re out of the house on the phone, in case you need to reach them. Also decide whether you want them answering the phone. If they’re particularly young or sound very young, it’s important to teach them to say without hesitation that you can’t come to the phone, not that you aren’t home.
After going over these simple steps, you and your child might find that you’re equally relieved at how much less stress there is the next time you head out of the house and they stay at home. And remember, it’s a major step in growing up for children to take on this sort of responsibility. They must leave the nest sometime, after all.
Chad Foster is a trusted family law and divorce lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.