Until about the age of eleven or twelve, most children are not able to handle stressful or emergency situations that require mature decision making on their own. So it is best for parents to arrange for an adult or a responsible older adolescent to be at home when they are not around or for some other structured supervision.
Your child, however, may be an exception and be sufficiently mature at the age of eight to ten years to be home alone after school. But before his first day on his own, you need to make sure he feels safe and secure, and that he is prepared for dealing with knocks on the door, emergencies, and injuries. Some communities offer courses in babysitting that can also prepare them for a positive self-care experience. Nevertheless, your child should not be home alone until he is comfortable with that arrangement. Here are some issues that you should discuss with him:
- Does he know his full name, address, and phone number? Does he know your full name as well, and the address and phone number of your workplace, or other ways to reach you at work? (You might call every day to be sure your child has arrived home safely and that nothing at home is out of the ordinary. Children appreciate the sense of security this form of supervision provides.)
- Does he have an established routine to follow so he knows what he is supposed to do and where he is supposed to be?
- When he returns home from school every day, does your child know how to lock the door behind him? Can he remember to call you and/or a neighbor as soon as he arrives home, and then check in again at designated times?
- Have you instructed your child never to enter your home if a door is ajar, or if a window is open or broken?
- Have you talked about what to do if someone knocks at the front door while he is home alone? (The best advice: he should not open the door and should tell the person knocking that you are home but are busy and unable to answer the door.)
Talking about these issues and taking all of these things into consideration will help you and your child feel more safe, secure, and comfortable about his after-school experience.