Somewhere around the pre-teen years, we take the step of leaving our child home alone. This might be for a quick trip to the store or a day off from school when parents still need to work. When raising a child with ADHD, this can be a scary proposition. Not only are our children less mature, they can be impulsive and boredom, more often than not, leads to trouble. So how do you know when it is okay to leave your child home alone?
There is no correct answer and no magic age. The answer will depend on your individual child. Remember, some children with ADHD are several years below their non-ADHD counterparts. If you are questioning their ability to stay home alone, yet they are too old to have a “babysitter” you might want to start with some short trips to the store and see how they do, then slowly increase the time away from home.
Determining When They Are Ready
To help you determine if your child is ready, there are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine if they are ready;
- Does your child show responsibility and maturity for completing household chores?
- Do they follow directions?
- Do they follow the rules of the house when you are at home?
- Do they show respect for your property and your privacy?
- Have they developed good judgment or do they take risks that might compromise their safety?
- Does your child know what to do in case of an emergency?
- Is your child able to say “no” to friends coming in the house while you are away?
Creating an Emergency Contact List
Before leaving your child home alone, make a phone list and make sure it is placed in a location where it is easily accessible. The list should contain:
- “911” for emergencies
- Your cell phone number
- At least 3 other contacts for emergencies, this could be neighbors or relatives your child will feel comfortable contacting if they cannot reach you
Once you have decided to let your child stay home, talk to them about the rules and what is expected while you will be gone. For example, they cannot open the door, even if they know the person on the other side. Some rules you might consider are;
- Whether or not they may have a friend over while you are not home
- Whether there are certain rooms in the house that are off-limits
- How much television they can watch, what programs they can watch and whether they are allowed on the internet while you are not home
- Whether they may cook anything while you are not home. Maybe they can use the microwave oven but not the oven
- If they can answer the home phone while you are not home
- If there are limitations to what food they may eat (and how much)
- Remind your child they should not tell anyone they are home alone.
- Set exact times you will call your child to check on them.
In addition to talking to your child, consider writing down all rules and posting it somewhere you can both refer to.
- If you will be gone for several hours, make sure your child knows what they may eat. If they take medication, be sure it is available for them.
- Have flashlights in an area easily assessable in case of power outages.
- If needed, set up a schedule for your child.
- In addition, make sure there are no dangerous objects or substances. Make sure all alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter medications are locked in a closet.
- Lock up or put away in a safe location items such as lighters, matches, tobacco products and car keys.
- Consider putting away sharp knives and if you have any weapons in your home, be sure they are securely locked up.
Being prepared is the key to success. As a parent, we worry about our children and raising a child with ADHD, it is more difficult to determine the correct age to let them stay home. It may very well be that their friends have had the opportunity to stay home alone before you feel your child is ready. But the more prepared you are, the better the experience will be, for both you and your child.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.