With school holidays in full swing around Australia, it’s tempting for working parents to leave kids home alone for part or all of the day. Actually, it’s tempting for any parent to leave kids unsupervised at some stage at any time of year – even if it’s just for an hour to do the grocery shopping in peace.
Question is, should you do it? Here are some things we should all consider before we leave the kids in charge.
Questions to consider
Chances are your child will bug you to be left unsupervised before you’re even ready to think about it. When you are, here are some questions to ask to see if you are both ready.
1. Is it legal to leave?
All Australian states specify an obligation for parents to provide adequate care and safety for their children.
Queensland is the only state that specifies the age of the child (12 years old) when outlining the legal obligation to provide adequate supervision for children.
The Criminal Code (Section 364A) states:
Leaving a child under 12 unattended
(1) A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour.
Maximum penalty—3 years imprisonment.
(2) Whether the time is unreasonable depends on all the relevant circumstances.
For the rest of Australia, there is actually no legal age recommended to leave kids home alone. The law simply expects that you will ensure your child is properly looked after and there are guidelines that vary from state to state as to what that means.
Note that in each state, children can be removed from any situation where their safety is in danger and no supervision is present and this can be classed as a criminal offense. The definition of ‘safety’ is largely undefined, and the circumstances surrounding when and how a child is left unsupervised are a largely grey area.
Find out more about the guidelines issued by your state:
2. Would your kid(s) feel safe and secure?
Assuming that it is legal to leave the kids at home, the next thing to consider is how being left unsupervised will make them feel.
As the parent of an anxious child, my biggest concern would be how settled my kids would feel if they were left home alone for X amount of time. If they are comfortable with 1 hour alone, would they be just as comfortable with 2 or 3? Comfortable for a full day?
This is something we need to discuss with the kids, but remember that tweens and teens always overestimate their capabilities. It’s a good idea to have a back-up plan in place the first few times you leave the kids on their own.
3. How available are you when you’re away?
Things to consider:
• Will you be local or further afield when your kids are home alone?
• Will you be available to answer the phone whenever they call?
• Will you be able to pop in from time to time throughout the day?
• If not you, then is there a trusted friend who the kids are comfortable with who can be on call while you are away?
4. How well would your child handle an Emergency?
Consider whether your child is likely to be able to keep a level-head and follow rules during an emergency. Lots can happen in a day, or even an hour. Make sure you are happy that your child can work through some Emergency scenarios before you leave him unsupervised. The questions he asks during this time may well change your mind about whether he is ready to be left at home after all.
Click here to see the Home Alone Checklist to prepare your home.
5. How long will you be gone for and how often?
A day at home alone is a treat, but three or four days in a row may start to feel like a boring burden. Just keep checking in with the kids to see how they are feeling. You might decide to leave the kids one day a week but make plans for them on your other work days.
6. How responsible is your child overall?
This is particularly important if you are leaving an older child in charge of younger siblings. At 12, your child may be ready to hang at home by herself, but not quite ready to take responsibility for a 10-year-old as well. Then again, the 10-year-old might be just fine on her own, thank you very much.
7. How much structure does your child need in the day?
Some kids thrive on total freedom, others need a little structure, some need a lot of structure. Many kids become anxious when they don’t have set things happen at set times. You might not even know your child is like this until you leave for the day.
Remember too, that even for a kid who doesn’t seem to need routine, staying at home without any structure can get pretty tiring very quickly. Unlimited screen time seems amazing until you actually try it for days on end.
See more ideas for adding structure on the Home Alone Checklist
My kids have been staying home for a couple of hours or so for about two years now (they are now 13, 12 and 9). My eldest is happy to stay home by himself for this period of time, my younger two are happy when they are with their siblings. I don’t think any of them are ready for me to head out for a full work day yet.
Remember that staying home alone is an important milestone for kids to conquer and each will do it in their own time. Start small, prepare them well and then leave them to it. Well, at least leave and then call to check on them 37 times, because that’s just what we do, isn’t it?
Do your kids stay home alone? What made you know they were ready?
Image by 胡 卓亨