Adults today feel very anxious about the safety of children. Not only parents, but grandparents, extended family and strangers worry about children left alone.
In principle, it is a caring and responsible attitude. It has been exacerbated by knowledge of child abductions, abuse and neglect.
But have we taken it too far? I think so. Our anxiety about the remote possibility that a child can be abducted from the safety of their home in a matter of minutes is over the top.
Statistics show that nearly all abductions take place outside the home where a vulnerable child is seduced into a car or grabbed very quickly. If it happens, it is an abhorrent and frightening event but thankfully it occurs very rarely in actuality.
We need to be careful not to take rare calamities and generalise our anxiety so that we become fearful in our everyday lives. This fear will be transmitted to our children who may become anxious themselves and afraid of learning independence.
Which brings us back to the question at hand. Can we leave a child safely at home alone? For how long? And from what age?
- Show common sense. If you have a child who is impulsive and irresponsible, never leave him alone until he shows the capacity to be responsible. This may reach into adolescence or even beyond.
- A child who is sensible and makes good decisions can be left alone for short periods of time but in a carefully orchestrated situation. In other words, I am not advocating leaving him alone at random or because of neglect. Leave only after there is a plan in place. Some children are ready at age 6.
- Train your child about safety. Teach her how to use the phone. Leave a list of emergency and family numbers. Introduce her to neighbours who are close by. When you do the exercise of leaving her alone, let a neighbour know you will be slipping out and ask them to check in after 30 minutes.
- Do not leave a child for more than an hour. Keep it short and sharp and use it as a teaching experience.
- Never impose this exercise on a child who is fearful. Only trial it with a child who desperately wants to be independent and is fully cooperative.
- Leave your child alone for his benefit, not yours. In other words, do not flit out for your convenience. Plan and execute the event to benefit your child.
- I do believe that learning independence is valuable and goes a long way to decreasing anxiety in adults and children.