COVID-19 has changed the way we do everything. The way we shop, the way we socialize and yes even the way we school. With the increasingly popular option of distance learning and/or homeschool, more and more children are staying home to do their schooling. In some cases, they are being asked to do schoolwork and care for their younger siblings, while their parents go to work. Parents who are thinking about the option of leaving their children home alone, whether for working or for other reasons, should consider the following information. These questions and answers can help parents determine if leaving their kids home alone, would be a safe alternative for their family.
When is it okay to leave your children home alone and/or babysit siblings or other children?
In the state of Utah, and most other states, there is no set age limit of how old your child needs to be to stay home alone or babysit siblings. Most states don’t have a minimum age and suggest that parents look at the maturity level of their child and if the child feels comfortable being left home alone. Leaving a 10 or 11 year old home alone during the day is ok but only if they think they can do it, aren’t nervous about it and if it isn’t for a long time.
How long is it okay to leave your child home alone?
Depending on your child’s age, how they handle their responsibilities, how confident they are babysitting or being home alone, a parent can decide how long their child can safely be unattended. It is suggested that a younger child have a trial run with parents close by to see how the child does with babysitting or staying home alone. Waiting until your child is an older teen, would be recommended, if a parent needs to leave their kids at night or overnight. Great rule of thumb…the older the child, the longer they should be able to stay home unsupervised.
What are some safety precautions we should consider when leaving our children home?
Make sure there is a phone at home for your child to easily access and that they know how to use it. Also, have the phone numbers of parents, relatives, or other numbers such as poison control, in case of emergencies.
Make sure your child knows how to dial 911 and practice situations with them of when they might need to call 911.
Show your child where the water shut off valve is, where the fire extinguishers are, and other important areas in the home that your child would need to be aware of in case of an emergency.
Plan and practice an emergency plan with your child or children in case there is a fire or other disaster and they need to leave the home. Prepare them for the possibility of a power outage as well.
Teach your babysitting child how to safely cook meals and turn off appliances when done.
Explain the importance of not answering doors when parents are not home and never letting anyone know on social media or by phone that your child and their siblings are home alone.
Keep out of reach all medications, alcohol, tobacco substances and other things that you do not want your child/children to have access to.
Make clear rules for internet or TV use and set up parental controls.
Prepare a basic first aid kit and show your children where it is located and how to use it. Also, really stress to your children the importance of handwashing and hand sanitizer.
Taking a basic first aid/CPR class would be a helpful tool for your babysitting child to have. The Tooele USU Extension office teaches a 4H Babysitting class which includes an overview of basic first aid/CPR training. If interested, contact the extension office to find out about any upcoming classes.
If you are still uncertain about whether to leave your child home alone and/or babysit younger siblings, keep the following questions in mind.
Do you live in an area that is really busy or quiet? What is the crime like in your area? Do you have an alarm that your child knows how to use and are they good at remembering to the lock the doors?
Will a parent, relatives or friends be close by to come over if there is an emergency?
Does your child show responsibility in doing homework, household chores and watching their siblings? Can they mediate when siblings fight or are they adding to the problem?
Answering these questions and talking over all of these points with your babysitting child or children, will help decide the readiness of your children in staying home alone. With the uncertainty of COVID-19 and its effect on children going back to public schools, distance learning/homeschooling is another alternative for parents to school their children. This choice will take some planning especially for working parents, so have a clear and honest discussion with your children about your expectations and their expectations. It is a rite of passage for children to be able to stay home alone and/or babysit their siblings without parental supervision. It is also really good for parents to understand that there are ways to safely and legally leave their children home alone and/or babysit siblings for a short time.
Rebekah Furniss is a 4-H Assistant at the USU Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.