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Is Your Tween Ready to Stay at Home Alone?

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Are you thinking about leaving your tween at home alone? Many parents wait until the tween years to leave their children home alone -- maybe for a few minutes, or for a few hours everyday after school. Here's how to determine if your tween is really ready for the responsibility, plus suggestions on making the transition easy for you and your child.

1. Know the Rules

Mixed race girl using digital tablet
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Do your homework, because some states have predetermined minimum ages for leaving children unsupervised. You can find out if your state has a minimum home alone age by calling your state's department of social services. Some localities require children be at least 8 years of age, others say they must be 11 or 12 before they can be left at home alone.

2. Discuss Expectations for Staying at Home Alone

Sit down with your tween and discuss your family rules and expectations. Is your tween allowed to watch television, use the computer, or talk on the phone with friends while at home alone? Is your child allowed to use the microwave or oven? Write down what your tween can and can't do while he's at home alone. In addition, be specific about whether or not he's to call you when he arrives home, if he can play video games, etc. Since your tween's demands may vary from day to day, update his daily to-do list everyday to reflect his schedule.

3. Establish Rules

Rules are important to work out before allowing your child to stay home alone. Be specific about whether or not family or friends are allowed to visit your tween while you're away and he's at home. Also, make it clear if you expect your tween to work on his homework, practice the piano, or set the table for dinner during his time alone. It's also important to discuss consequences if your child decides to ignore the rules you've established for him.

4. Have a Plan

Develop an emergency contact list of phone numbers with your tween so that he knows who to turn to for help should something happen when he's at home alone. Include procedures for dialing 911 in an emergency, as well as when to ask a neighbor for help, or when to call you or another adult with questions. Teach important safety precautions, such as immediately locking the door once inside, calling you to check in, and what to do in the event of a fire or injury. It's also a good idea to make sure your child understands first aid procedures, and knows where the family first-aid kit can be found.

5. Roleplay

Demonstrate the proper way to answer the phone and the doorbell when your child is at home alone. Your tween should never reveal that she is alone, so role-play potential situations with her to make sure she is prepared. Prepare your home before allowing her to stay by herself. Make sure all your smoke detectors are in working order, install a peep hole in your front door, restock your first aid kit, and consider installing caller ID on your phone so that she knows who is calling the house.

6. Talk with Siblings

If your tween is going to be responsible for other siblings, be sure to explain exactly what is expected of all children. Should your tween prepare a snack for the younger child, or help with homework? Enroll him in a first aid course through your local YMCA, hospital, or parks and recreation department.

7. Begin Gradually

Transition your tween to time home alone gradually. Begin with thirty minutes, adding on time gradually as your tween's confidence grows, as well as your trust. Before you know it, your tween and you will be comfortable leaving him at home alone, and another milestone of growing up will be behind you.
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