Are you considering leaving your child alone for short periods of time? If so, you are not alone. Statistics show that occasional self-care is a normal experience for a large number of young children.
An estimated two million to six million children are considered to be “latchkey” children….7 to 10 percent of all five to 13-year-olds. Should your child be staying alone? The answer depends on several factors, according to Christine Todd, extension specialist for child development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Self-care can be a rewarding experience for children who are ready for it,” she says. “However, if the child is not ready, self-care can be a frightening and potentially dangerous situation.”
Benefits of self-care by children who are ready for it include increased independence, increased knowledge of self-care skills, increased sense of responsibility, greater self-esteem and a sense of contribution to the family. Concerns related to children who are not ready include reduced learning opportunities and social contacts, increased misbehavior and legal consequences for parents.
Ask yourself the following questions when determining a child’s readiness:
- Is the child physically capable of taking care of and protecting himself or herself?
- Is the child mentally capable of recognizing and avoiding danger and making sound decisions?
- Is the child emotionally ready? Will he/she feel confident and secure or afraid, lonely and bored?
- Does the child know what to do and who to call if a problem or emergency arises?
There is no “magic age” at which children are ready for self-care, and that other factors besides a child’s age or maturity may influence your decision. For example, if your neighborhood is unsafe, if there are no adults nearby to call in case of emergency, or if your child must remain alone for a very long time, it is best to continue to use some form of child care even if your child seems ready to stay alone.
Adapted from Illinois Association of School Boards.