Your little baby isn’t so little anymore. You’ve decided to test the waters of letting them stay home alone. But the switch between constant supervision and full independence for even just a few hours is serious business. Parents want to ensure their kids are safe at all times. Their tween’s first foray into staying home alone is a milestone rife with anxiety and opportunity.
If your kid can tend to their own needs, it may be time to consider letting them stay home alone occasionally. But before you pull out of the driveway and head to work or out to run errands, make a plan. When you do, you’ll be reassured that your kid is set up for a successful time on their own. With your intentional introduction to staying home alone, they’ll know what to do in key situations.
Make Your Home Solo-Kid Safe
You may have already baby-proofed your home, but your “baby” hasn’t had unlimited access to your empty house. Review your space for safety issues and items that could prove to be too tempting for your tween. Lock up alcohol and other age-restricted items not appropriate for children. If there are areas of your home that require an adult present, like a swimming pool, secure them.
Look around your home through your child’s eyes, analyzing what items or areas may need to be addressed. Anchor furniture that could tip over, stow spare vehicle keys, and sequester matches and other risk-laden items. Err on the side of making things too safe, especially when your kid is first trying out staying home alone.
Get Tech on Your Side
Tech tools can be safety saviors. From remote-locking entry and garage doors to Wi-Fi-enabled security systems, you can have eyes everywhere. Set your kid up with a smartphone so you can check in with them. Kid-friendly device companies like Troomi offer phones with fewer features, which can curb distracting or dangerous phone usage among tweens. Set expectations on using their new smartphone, including responding to reach-outs and asking questions if they need help.
Upgrade your security system to place cameras in key areas inside and outside of your home. Assign your kid a unique code for disarming the security system so you know when they’ve arrived home from school. Install a Ring or Nest video doorbell to keep an eye on who’s coming and going. Access your tech-enabled home using your smartphone or computer to check in as you see fit.
Review Expectations and What-If Scenarios
You may already have an after-school routine that your kid follows largely independently. But consider how that might change without an adult on standby. Accepting UPS deliveries, unexpected visitors, and neighborhood bike rides may be OK when you’re in the house. But if your tween is home alone, some or all of these activities may be off limits.
Have a discussion about what’s acceptable when they’re alone. Review what’s expected if situations arise that require an adult’s presence. Your kid may be disappointed that they can’t have friends over after school if you’re not there. Listen to their concerns and frustrations, but be clear about the limits you’ve set and why. Remind them that these rules are designed to keep them safe, even if they don’t always feel that way.
Enlist a Trusted Neighbor to Alert You of Issues
A trustworthy neighbor is worth their weight in gold. You may typically ask your neighbor to keep an eye on your house while you’re on vacation. But when it’s time for your kid to start staying home alone, keying in your neighbor may be a smart move. Good neighbors famously love to help one another, and it’s likely they’ll relate to your situation. Enlist their help in monitoring your kid’s arrival and ask them to pay attention to anything concerning.
The goal isn’t to ask your neighbor to babysit from afar. Instead, let them know of your plan to start giving your tween some time at home alone. Give them your kids’ new phone number, their schedule for solo days, and other key information. Ensure your kid has the neighbor’s contact information and knows that reaching out to them is always an option. With a trusted neighbor clued in, your kid can feel confident knowing that an adult is nearby if needed.
Be Prepared for Your Kid to Test Boundaries
Kids test boundaries; it’s just what they do. And the newness of having the house all to themselves can tempt even the most rule-abiding kids.
When your tween tests the boundaries of the rules you’ve set, address the issue head-on. Seek to understand why they made their choice and course-correct so they can stick to the rules next time. If a punishment is appropriate, make sure they understand why it’s been applied and how to avoid it next time.
While there may be some setbacks along the way, learning to stay home alone will let your kid gain confidence and earn your trust over time. Before either of you know it, they’ll be able to hold down the fort when you’re at the office. And thanks to your intentional efforts, you’ll have peace of mind that they’re safe and having fun.