COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KXRM) – One of the tough decisions parents may have to make is deciding when their child is ready to be left at home alone.
Some states have laws in place, but most leave it up to the parents to ultimately decide.
So how do you know when your kids can be trusted to keep everything together at home on their own?
Here in Colorado, we don’t have a law regarding the issue.
However, authorities do have a couple suggestions. To be left alone, the child should be at least age 12; to watch other siblings, at least age 15.
But when you’re making the decision, experts say you should be thinking of more than just the age factor.
“I could be seeing a kiddo that is 12, even 16, but they’re operating on a 4 or 5-year-old level,” child and family therapist Heather Thompson said.
She added that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer when it comes to kids being on their own because each one is different.
“A lot of it has to do with personality. Some kids just come out anxious,” Thompson said. “But then there are other children that feel capable. They’re very resilient and so if something were to happen if they were alone, they could figure that out for themselves.”
Thompson says a close connection with parents can help children make good decisions when they’re flying solo.
But Colorado Springs Police say it’s also important to get them prepared to handle emergencies.
“Maybe they need a first aid class or a CPR class. Something like that to make sure that they at least have that foundation if something happens,” Lieutenant Catherine Buckley said.
Because Colorado has no law regarding the proper age, some parents could be trusting their kids before they’re ready for such a huge responsibility.
So we asked if leaving a child alone could warrant neglect charges.
“A lot of it has to do with sometimes the length of time, the age of the child as far as emotional age and their ability to handle an emergency,” Buckley said. “It has to do with their ability even to just care for themselves, so we weigh those factors in there.”
Buckley and Thompson both agree that preparing children with practice is the best way to avoid any trouble. They recommend running through different scenarios with your children, so they are both physically and mentally prepared to handle an emergency if one should arise.
“We practice emotional regulation. We practice coping skills over and over because one of the things that we have learned through neuroscience is repetition creates new neural pathways,” Thompson said. “So absolutely, just like you would with a fire plan at home, make a plan and then practice it.”
So when you do decide to trust them on their own, be sure they have a way to contact an adult.
“In our society now, a lot of homes don’t have hardline telephones. So if you’re going to leave a child there, you need to make sure that that child has the ability to make an emergency telephone call,” Buckley said.
Technology is actually an advantage for parents these days, and it offers an easy way to stay connected with your child.
“Now that we have technology, that’s so cool because they can check in via Face time,” Thompson said. “Or you could talk through if they’re feeling anxious or nervous or worried you could talk through it with them.”
While there are tools to make the time alone a little easier, it’s still a difficult choice to make.
But Thompson and Buckley share the same view – your child’s opinion on the matter should definitely impact yours.
If they’re not ready – chances are – they’ll tell you.
Illinois, Maryland and Oregon are the only three states that have laws regarding this issue, but almost all of them do offer a suggested age. Most are similar – around 10 to 14-years-old.
But other states – like Kansas – suggest some kids can be left alone at the tender age of six.