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LEAVING YOUR CHILD ALONE FOR THE FIRST TIME: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE



I remember the first time I had to leave my son alone at home, he was about 11 years old at the time. I couldn't find a carer and it was the only choice I had.


It was nerve-wracking for me to say the least. But my son was excited. He thought of it like some kind of adventure he was about to go on, having the whole house to himself for the first time! I can only imagine, the kind of freedom that he was thinking he'll be enjoying.


Having to leave your child alone can be an unnerving experience for parents, as well as (some) children. There are many things to consider and to prepare to ensure that your child is safe whilst left alone. Not to say that if you're all prepared you would have total peace of mind, but at least you would know that you have covered all bases to ensure the safety and well-being of your child when they are on their own.


Here I share some tips and advice for leaving your child alone for the first time, so you can feel confident and prepared - a little.



Evaluate Your Child's Readiness

It's important to assess whether or not your child is ready to be left on their own. You should consider their age, maturity level and their ability to follow rules.


All children are different. Some may be ready to be left alone at home when they are 10, whilst others might only be comfortable when they are 14 or 15 so try to understand your child's abilities as they are, without comparing them to other children.




Draw Up a Plan

Once you've determined that your child is ready to be left home alone, it's time to draw up a plan together with your child.


This plan should include emergency phone numbers, family contact numbers, a list of house rules, and a plan for what to do in case of an emergency.


You would want to discuss this plan with your child and ensure that he understands and agrees. You would also want to play out different scenarios with him to prepare him so he knows what to do.




Teach Your Child Basic Safety Skills

Before you leave your child alone, teach them basic safety skills, such as how to call emergency services, or what to do in case of fire. You would also need to make them understand what constitutes an emergency.


You might also want to consider teaching them how to use appliances safely i.e the microwave if they are old enough and allowed to use it and how to lock and unlock doors and windows.


Basic first aid like how to apply pressure to stop bleeding and how to apply a band-aid would also be beneficial for them.


You should go through scenarios with them so they are prepared for any eventualities, such as what to do in case of a fire. It would be helpful to teach them how to use a fire extinguisher. If you don't have one (or a few), you should.


leaving your child alone for the first time


Set Clear Ground Rules

Set clear ground rules for your child to follow when they are at home alone. Make a list of do's and don't's and go through it with them one by one so that they completely understand.


Some do's might include some chores they need to do, watching TV, making a snack, finishing their homework, playing video games or reading a book. Don't's, to me, normally is more than the do's (he might feel imprisoned by hey it's to keep him safe!) and can include a whole host of things like not using the stove, playing with fire, lighting candles, handling a knife for whatever reason, going outside, opening the front door for anybody or having friends over.

Make sure you keep the list in clear view, maybe in their room or on the fridge so they are always reminded of it.




Discuss Consequences

Once you've discussed the list of do's and don't's, it would be only natural for you to discuss with your child the consequences should they break those rules.


For example, if they go outside when they're not supposed to or don't finish their homework when they are supposed to, the consequences might be losing their privilege of staying home alone.


Discussing these consequences ahead of time will help your child understand the importance of following the rules and would most likely make them adhere to them.




Contact List and Communication

If your child will only be with a home phone (landline) you would want to create a contact list which includes your mobile number, your office number, a colleague's number, other close family members like grandparents and aunts or uncles, and not forgetting emergency services.


If he has his own mobile phone, you might want to include important phone numbers as their speed dial. Write down the list so your child knows who exactly is on their speed dial.


Also, let them know that you are available any time if they need to reach you and you might want to schedule certain times for your child to call and check in with you.


The video call function is an absolutely fantastic invention for things like this, especially when they're still young. Unfortunately, when they reach the teenage years, video calls with parents are just not cool.


Also, remember to tell them not to ever give out any information over the phone or online to random callers. This should be a general rule of thumb.


leaving your child alone for the first time



Teach Them About Stranger Danger

Teaching your child about stranger danger is important for their overall safety. It's important that you strike a balance between educating your child about stranger danger without causing any unnecessary fear or even anxiety.


You could role-play different situations with your child which will help them understand how to react in real-life situations. For example, you could play out a scenario where a stranger approaches them telling them that they are your friend, and ask your child how they would respond.


Teach them how to respond. How to say 'no' firmly and how to yell for help, if necessary.


Instincts are also good to follow so you should encourage your child how to notice their instincts and how to follow them.

leaving your child alone for the first time



Do A Practice Run

It is best that you do a practice run, or several before you have to actually leave your child at home alone.


This might involve leaving your child for an hour initially, whilst you visit the neighbours. This way, your child will still be comfortable whilst at home alone knowing that you're close by. Gradually increase the distance you are from them, by say, running to the grocery store, within that same time frame of one hour. Once you and your child are comfortable with the distance within the time frame, you can increase the time.


Sometimes their anxiety stems from how far away you are from them and not have long you are away. You might be at the neighbour's house for three hours and your child will feel perfectly fine because they know you're only next door. But one hour, an hour away could cause some anxiety for them.


So have practice runs based on both, distance and time.


This will help them adjust to being on their own and will give you the opportunity to assess their ability to follow the rules and handle being alone.


Do as many practice runs until you are both comfortable.



Give Them The Reassurance They Need

Leaving your child alone for the first time can be scary for both of you. It's important you give them reassurance and support throughout the process of preparing them for it and especially when they are actually left alone.


Do not rush them or the process and make sure they are totally ready for it. Having practice runs would help you both a great deal.


Reassure your child that you are contactable at any time for whatever they need. Tell them that you trust them in their ability to be on their own for those few hours.




Celebrate Their Success

Finally, when your child has successfully stayed home alone for the very first time, make sure you celebrate their success.


Show them your appreciation and how proud you are of their independence and sense of responsibility. Share the experience with family and friends of their success. This will help your child feel more valued and validated and proud of their own achievement. All this can help reinforce the positive experience and make it more memorable for your child.


Take them out for ice cream, or you could plan a day out together.


Celebrating their success will surely go a long way in reinforcing your child's confidence and independence. It will also, quite possibly, encourage them to continue to take on new responsibilities in the future.


leaving your child alone for the first time

In conclusion, leaving your child alone for the first time can be a difficult and emotional experience for both parents and children. However, with careful planning and preparation, you can ensure your child's safety and well-being.


By determining their readiness, creating a plan, teaching basic safety skills, setting ground rules, establishing communication, discussing consequences, gradually increasing time alone, providing reassurance, and celebrating their success, you can help your child feel confident and comfortable when staying home alone.

Remember, every child is different and will be ready to stay home alone at their own pace. Trust your instincts, and be patient. With time and experience, your child will grow more confident and independent. Just remember, always be available to support and assist them if they need anything.


Do you have any tips for leaving your child alone for the first time?


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