A question that parents are often faced with is when they can legally leave their child at home alone. Unfortunately, the state of Ohio offers no legal answer; there’s no state law on the books telling parents the age at which you can “legally” leave your child at home. Note: there may be local ordinances controlling this issue but we are dealing here with state law. Therefore, state-wise, the choice falls in the hands of the child’s parent. But fear not! We have a few helpful tips for determining when you and your children are ready to take this step.
Is Your Child Ready?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recommended age for leaving a child at home unattended is 12. However, it really depends on when your child is mature enough to stay at home safely and responsibly. The first step in this process should always be to talk with your children; the goal here is to not only gauge how they feel about staying home alone, and for how long, but also get a sense for their maturity. Children like to feel heard; ask them how they feel about staying home alone, what their concerns are, and what they might do in the case of an emergency. Listen to what they say- their responses will give you a better idea of their readiness to stay home unsupervised. One of the biggest things to consider is how they will respond to rules and expectations; at a certain maturity level, they will understand that following these rules is for their own safety and wellbeing.
The biggest concern when leaving one’s children at home is their safety. It’s good to make sure that children are well-equipped to deal with any emergency that may occur while they are home alone. Talk with your children about how and when to call 911. You may also wish to keep a list of relevant phone numbers (family, neighbors, etc.) in an easily-accessible location in the event that these people need to be reached. If you own firearms or knives, ensure that they are stored in a secure location away from your child’s access. Make sure your child understands that these items, as well as ovens, toasters, etc. are “off-limits” while you are away. Explain to them why this is; children like to know the reason behind rules, and an explanation of potential dangers is crucial to their cooperation. Additionally, it would be wise to keep a first-aid kit in a central location; keep it stocked with bandages, disinfectant, etc. and instruct your children on how to use them. While this is not a substitute for emergency care, it will help them take care of the cuts and scrapes that children so often get.
Providing Food and Snacks
The last thing any parent wants is for their child to go hungry while they are home alone; it may therefore be a good idea to prepare snacks ahead of time. This doesn’t have to be hard; leaving fresh fruits and veggies in an easily-accessible location can provide your children with a simple solution to the hunger issue. Children like to do things for themselves, so leaving ingredients for sandwiches (deli meats, cheese, etc.) gives them a safe and easy-to-prepare snack that grants them a bit of independence. If all else fails, microwaveable leftovers not only eliminate food waste but provide a more substantial meal in the event that you’re faced with particularly ravenous youngsters.
All in all, the choice to leave a child at home is up to you. Have the conversation with your children about spending time unsupervised‑ don’t rush into anything; but allowing them to spend time alone can give them the independence and responsibility they desire.