Preparing children to stay home alone during summer break

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Summer vacation schedules may mean some parents or grandparents are finding themselves with a decision to make about youth staying home alone.  UW-Extension offers a video training program for families designed to encourage discussions and planning for stay alone time.

Video Series
Home Alone Fact Sheets for Parents and Children

Is your child ready to stay home alone?

According to the Wisconsin State Law Library, “there is no agreed-upon age when a child can stay home alone safely.”  (Source: https://wilawlibrary.gov) The fact that each child matures at different rates is the reason why parent or grandparents can’t use age as a base for making this important decision.  Some children display the ability to begin staying home alone around age 12, or even sooner; others do so when they’re older.

The following questions may help determine your child’s maturity and how they have demonstrated responsible behavior in the past:

  • Is your child physically and mentally able to care for themselves?
  • Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
  • How does your child respond to unfamiliar or stressful situations?
  • Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?

Other Considerations
Even if your child seems mature enough to stay home alone, you’ll need to think about some other factors:

  • Is your home safe?
  • Is your neighborhood safe?
  • How long will your child be alone each day?
  • Is there an adult living or working nearby, where your child can go for help?
  • Does your child have special medical, physical, or emotional needs?
  • Is your family going through a difficult transition period due to a recent move, death, divorce or remarriage?

Family Rules

Youth that are home alone need to know the rules and guidelines to help them stay safe.

Family rules and expectations need to be clearly communicated.  “Be good” or “Clean the House” are not clear enough.  Family rules need to be more specific, so children know exactly what to do and when.  “No playing outside until your room is picked up”

Family rules also need explanations.  Youth that understand why a rule exists increases their understanding of the situation which leads to good decision-making in the future.   Families need to discussion situations where rules will be applied so parents will see how the child thinks in a new situation.

Once a family rule is made, discuss the consequences of not following the rule.  A child who understands the penalty is more likely to follow the rule.   Some parents may choose to give their child the opportunity to be part of establishing the consequence for breaking a rule.  Ownership of the rule and its consequences improves the chances youth following the family rule.

Rules are also more likely to be followed if they are enforced consistently.  It can be confusing to children when rules are enforced some of the time but not all the time.  It’s better to have a few important rules rather than many inconsistent ones.

Legal concerns

Leaving a child without supervision at an inappropriate age or in inappropriate circumstances may be considered neglect after considering factors that may put the child at risk of harm, such as the child’s age, mental ability, and physical condition; the length of the parent’s absence; and the home environment.

If you are concerned about leaving your child home alone and it being perceived as child abuse and neglect, reach out to Forest County Social Services or your tribes Indian Child Welfare Department to discuss your concerns.

If you are an adult concerned about a child who appears to be neglected or inadequately supervised, contact Forest County child protective services (CPS) agency at 715-478-3351.

For more information about the programs and plans or UW-Madison Division of Extension Forest County, please visit our website at https://forest.extension.wisc.edu.