With the new school year under way, many families have adjusted their caregiver schedules from the summer months. Other families are dealing with new work situations, while still others have children who are now old enough to not need after-school daycare.
Whatever the reason, many parents will have children staying home alone this fall. Although Florida does not have a legal minimum age for when children can stay home alone, safekids.org suggests waiting until the child is at least 12 years old.
“We know this is not possible for every family,” says Michelle Sterling, BayCare Kids Wellness and Safety Specialist. “And there’s not a magic age.” Instead, she says, each parent or guardian should assess the maturity, confidence and knowledge of their own child before making the decision to leave them home alone.
Once you’ve made the decision that your not-so-little one is ready for this milestone, the next step is to ensure that you’ve set them up for success. Here are some tips from Sterling to consider before your child handles their first solo evening at home:
- Set up the ground rules and boundaries before you leave and clarify that they are clear for everyone. Whether it’s a 9 p.m. bedtime, no sugar after 10 p.m. rule or not having friends over, make sure there is no ambivalence about your expectations.
- Depending on the child’s age, have clear guidelines about whether they are allowed to open the door, answer the phone or go outside if you are not home.
- Teach children not to give information about being home alone (or reveal their home address) when they are playing games online. It is tough for a child to verify the authenticity of the gamer with whom they are interacting.
- Don’t allow your children to post on social media that they are home alone. Parents should also be careful about posting their whereabouts in a way that makes it clear that their children are home alone.
- Make sure your child has access to a phone. Either program in or leave a list of important numbers, including 911, backup adults, close family members they trust, police, fire and poison control.
- Keep harmful substances, such as prescription medications and firearms, locked up and out of sight.
- Discuss your family’s fire escape plan. While most kids know how to get out of their school, few families teach their children how to exit the house in case of a fire and where to safely meet up.
- If a child hasn’t been taught to cook, don’t let them do so for the first time while you are out. Have snacks and meals that can be easily heated up in a microwave or eaten as is.
If you’re wondering whether your child is ready to stay home alone, or want to double down on preparation, consider signing up for a Safe@Home class taught by BayCare Kids Wellness and Safety experts at various Children’s Board Family Resource Centers. These classes are offered at no cost, but you must register.
Safe@Home for students in grades 4-6
Learn how to be safe when parents are away; how to handle power failures and weather emergencies; and how to assess and respond to injuries.
Upcoming classes this fall:
- South County Children’s Board Family Resource Center – Oct. 17, 9-11:30 a.m.
- Town ‘N Country Children’s Board Family Resource Center – Nov. 23, 9-11:30 a.m.
- Central Tampa Children’s Board Family Resource Center – Nov. 23, 1:30-4 p.m.
For information about future classes and to register, contact your local Children’s Board Family Resource Center from the list below:
- Brandon: 1271 Kingsway Road, Brandon, (813) 740-4634
- Central Tampa: 1002 E. Palm Ave., Tampa, (813) 204-1741
- North Tampa: 116 W. Fletcher Ave., Tampa, (813) 558-1877
- Plant City: 301 N. Palmer St., Plant City, (813) 752-8700
- South County: 3030 E. College Ave., Ruskin, (813) 641-5600
- Temple Terrace: 5892 E. Fowler Ave., Temple Terrace, (813) 435-3032
- Town ‘n Country: 7520 W. Waters Ave., Suite 8, Tampa, (813) 356-1703
Presented by BayCare | Originally published in the September 2022 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.