Once you've checked with your local laws to make sure you're not in any kind of violation, you can decide whether or not your child is ready for this big step. It's not always an easy decision.
If you've decided that it works for your family to let your child stay at home alone, it is important to prepare everyone in the family - but especially your child. Here are some top tips for preparing your child to stay home alone.
1. Start Small and Short
Begin with very short times at home alone. Run across the street and chat with a neighbor, or take a short walk but don't go far. These first times alone can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as 30; it depends on your ultimate time goal and your child's temperament. Then you can work up to longer times and going farther away, such as running an errand across town or something similar.
2. Emergency Contacts
Sit down with your child and go over a list of emergency contacts. Post this list next to the telephone, or on the refrigerator. This list should include the following numbers:
* Your cell phone number
* Other family member's cell phone number
* 911 (young kids may need to see this written down to help keep them calm)
* Poison control
* Nearest relatives' phone numbers
* Your own full name, address, phone number, and car license plate number (your child may need to give this information an emergency situation)
For younger children, pictures can help with quick identification of numbers (a fire truck by 911, for example, or your picture by your cell number).
An idea for keeping kids out of trouble is to have a list of chores and/or responsibilities your child has to complete, and then a list of privileges. If your child does the chores first, he can do the privileges. Make it clear that, if you come home and he's engaged in a privilege (like video games) and his chores aren't done, then he'll lose that (or some other) privilege.
For younger kids, why not practice a bit? Have your child call your cell phone while you go outside, for example, and then ask him to pick up when you call. If possible, you can arrange with your local emergency officials for a tour of their facilities (like the fire department and local ambulance service), and a discussion of how the 911 system works and what kids can expect if they call 911.
It wouldn't hurt to let these emergency workers know your name and address, and the approximate times your child will be home alone.
Preparing your kids can help ease the transition into staying home alone, and everyone will likely be calmer and safer in the end.