Her three-year-old granddaughter who was sound asleep when she exited her HDB in Sengkang had somehow managed to make her way to the balcony ledge, which had no protective window grilles installed, and plummeted four storeys down to the bottom of her block.
While the little girl survived her fall, the injuries she sustained left her in a weakened state and the three-year-old died of pneumonia less than a month later.
To be clear, this was not an isolated incidence. Many similar stories have been relayed to the media over the years with most involving child left at home alone. It lead us to question: At what age is it appropriate for children to be left unsupervised?
Singapore currently has no laws stating a minimum age for leaving a child home alone.
Dr. Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, says “it is difficult to define a specific age as children vary in their development and maturity. ”
While would not leave any child under the age of ten alone ever, he also feels that “beyond 10-years-old, it becomes controversial.”
“As each child is different, it will be best for parents to understand their child’s temperament, maturity level and his or her propensity towards being impulsive to determine if their child can be safely left alone at home,” says the doctor.
No parent would willingly want to leave their child unsupervised for any length of time but unfortunately, working restrictions and other commitments make this area a tricky one for adults to navigate.
While the act of leaving your child home alone is not a crime, Dr. Lim adds that there are some tips parents should keep in mind: “Firstly, never take safety for granted. Look into safety features such as locking the window grilles,” he emphasises.
Dr. Lim adds that parents should also “make sure that they are contactable so that the child can reach you immediately if he becomes frightened or has any needs. Having a good relationship with your neighbours will be important as they can sometimes keep a look out for you and the child can also approach them should any emergencies or needs arise.”
Elynn Liew, a mother of two who works with CareerMums, weighs in on the debate: “I only started to leave both my kids at home by themselves when my eldest son turned 10-years old. My daughter was aged 7-plus then. Prior to that, I left my daughter alone at home once when she was around 6.”
She stresses that she feels it’s important that parents and caregivers do not leave children at home alone while they are asleep and that proper training is given to the child so they know how to behave if they have to stay home alone.
Madam Leong, a mum of two boys aged 9 and 12 in Pasir Ris, says her the decision would depend on the amount of time she’ll be gone.
“For two-minute trot down the road to the shops, not crossing any roads or getting in a car (so relatively little risk of being held up by an accident), 5 or 6-years old with mine,” she confides. “Basically, the age where you can be sure they won’t run after you.”
She adds that if she were to be gone for longer, she would make sure her kids could be trusted not to play with the cooking stove, know how to get out of the house in case of emergencies and know how to alert the neighbours. “In my case, with both my children, that has meant about 7 or 8-years old,” she says.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Khadijah Mokri, a mum of three boys aged 6, 4 and 3 from Tampines. She warns that “parents should leave their children unattended at their own risk” and says “she would find it hard to even exit a room knowing that another adult wasn’t present to look after them.”
Many parents are similarly anxious when it comes to leaving their children at home alone. Parents often worry about how their child will cope with the situation, but there are precautions they can take to ease their worries and help protect their children when they’re not around.
Here are some tips that parents should take into consideration if they decide to leave their child unsupervised at home:
- Stay in touch.
Call children throughout the day to ask how they are and what they are doing. Ask children to check in before they leave the house and to call again when they return.
- Keep kids connected.
Post important numbers by the telephone, including parent’s work and mobile phone numbers, the doctor’s office, and a neighbor or a nearby relative who can help children quickly if they need it.
- Practice what to do in an emergency.
Teach children how to dial “999” and when to do it. Ask questions like “If someone is trying to get in the house, what should you do?” “If you get hurt, what should you do?” and “If you want to play at a friend’s house, what should you do?”
- Set firm rules.
Make clear what children are allowed to do and what they aren’t allowed to do. Can they use the Internet when home alone? Can they invite a friend over? Can they invite several friends over?
When handled well, letting your child go solo in the house doesn’t have to be a harrowing experience. In fact, some parents say the act of being home alone can teach a child how to be independent, which could position them for success later on in life.
Disclaimer: The guidelines above are intended to be a starting point for parents in situations where they feel they have to leave their child alone at home. As always, please consult a medical professional first if you plan on leaving your child unsupervised for any period of time.