Stop here every day for a new question and answer, practical help for busy parents.
How old do kids have to be to stay home alone? We have gone over stranger danger, answering phones, no cooking, etc, but it just seems like such a big step. The world seems different today.
In many ways, the world is indeed different. But your children are growing up, as are mine. They will grow in stature and understanding, and they won’t wait for your permission to do so. This isn’t a bad thing, though it can be difficult to digest.
If you’ve taken the proper steps and educated your children about home-alone conduct, then there are only three issues to consider when debating whether to trust them to take care of themselves while you are out.
1) How long will you be gone? Start your kid out with short trips. Go to see a neighbor for 20 minutes. Take a quick bike ride around your neighborhood. Do something that doesn’t take long, then come right back to see how the kid reacted. Naturally, the longer you intend to be gone, the more confident you must be in your child’s ability to take care of himself.
2) How mature is your child? Age is less of an issue than how well your child handles himself. Ask yourself these questions about your child: Does he know how to use the phone with confidence, including how to call the police and how to reach you? Can he fend for himself in terms of scrounging a meal out of the refrigerator? Does the child normally behave well? Does he mind being left alone, or did you have to sell him on the idea gradually? Is he prone to keeping his cool rather than panicking? The more “yes” answers, the more comfortable you can be with leaving the kid alone. By the time a child is 12 or 13 years old, he should be able to stay home for three or four hours alone. Of course, some kids reach that stage earlier, and some kids aren’t ready for that responsibility until later in their teens.
3) How safe is your neighborhood? I admit no location is completely safe. And if you’re waiting for absolute safety before leaving your child home alone, be prepared to have him stay with you until you’re too old to leave the house. If you live in a calm, quiet subdivision with minimal crime and friendly neighbors the child knows, you can afford to leave your child home alone at a younger age and for a longer time than you could if that same child lived in a rough, crime-ridden neighborhood.
As a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t leave a child under 8 alone for more than a few minutes, and I’d feel comfortable with most 16-year-olds staying home alone for a weekend. If you’re thinking, “that leaves a lot of wiggle room,” you’re getting the point. Start with the ages I mention above, then modify them based on your individual child, and your individual circumstances.
My mother-in-law asks my children questions about what I do all day. Such as, when you wake up and what you make for dinner? She does this simply to judge me or gossip about me. What can I do if my mother-in-law asks my kids nosy questions about my routine?
The simple solution is to see less of your mother-in-law. You can keep the kids busy with other activities and simply find less time to visit. However, even if your mother-in-law is prying, the avoidance treatment punishes your children as well as the busybody.
Before you begin denying your mother-in-law contact with the grandkids, try to work this out. If you get along with the woman, talk frankly with her. Don’t get angry or defensive, but ask her point blank why she as grilling the kids about you, then tell her to stop. If you don’t get along with the woman, talk to your husband about it and ask him to intervene.
If you can’t achieve a satisfactory resolution via conversation, then all of a sudden the kids are going to be too busy to see grandma very often.
If you’d like to submit an Ask The Dad question, send it to [email protected] If you’d like to read more questions and answers, visit www.askthedad.com.