According to German law, parents in this country have what is known as a duty of supervision for their children. But what does that mean? When can and are children allowed to stay at home alone and what should be taken into account?
Basics parental supervision
Scenarios like an American mother who went on vacation and meanwhile left her children unattended, have legal consequences in this country. In Germany, parents have a duty of care towards their children in accordance with Section 1631 of the German Civil Code. If something accidentally breaks while playing or if the child even commits a criminal offense, the parents are usually responsible for this. The aim is to protect the children themselves and third parties from possible harm. If those responsible do not (sufficiently) fulfill their duty of supervision, there is a risk of legal consequences such as claims for damages, criminal prosecution and even withdrawal of custody in extreme cases. There are therefore two important basic rules for parents to observe: On the one hand, they must have personal liability insurance in which damage caused by the children is also insured. On the other hand, they have to fulfill their duty of supervision. But is a child allowed to stay at home alone and from when?
away when Can a child stay at home alone from a legal point of view?
Every child is individual and therefore there are no precise requirements in the law as to the age at which a child can be left alone for how long. Ultimately, each individual case must be considered separately. Nevertheless, previous judgments give at least rough clues, which look as follows:
- Young children must be supervised around the clock.
- From the age of four, children may be left out of sight for a quarter of an hour in a safe environment.
- At the age of six, many children can be alone for half an hour, but only if they are safe.
- Depending on the child, at the age of seven or eight they are able to stay alone for a longer period of time – but some only later.
So the child’s individual level of development must be taken into account. In addition, parents should practice being alone in small steps and only slowly extend the periods of time after the first “exercise units” have worked without any problems. Furthermore, the child’s safety is of course always the top priority.
On what should Parents pay attention when they leave their child alone?
Even if the child has already reached the right age and can stay alone, parents shouldn’t just leave the house spontaneously. Prior to this, you should be instructed in important basic rules and rules of conduct. A seven- to eight-year-old child should be able to understand rules and adhere to them reliably in order to be left alone. This includes specifications such as: The stove remains switched off or the door must not be opened to strangers. In addition, the child should stay in the building or garden, but not go near a busy road, in a forest or other potentially dangerous area on their own. Nevertheless, the child must never be locked in the house, otherwise they could panic or even endanger their lives in the event of a fire.
parents have to Weigh dangers realistically
The parents’ wish for more flexibility by being able to leave their child alone from time to time is quite understandable. However, it should not result in a rush. If the child is not ready or if there is a risk of potential danger, care must be taken. This also applies to children who disregard prohibitions – for whatever reason. The parents must therefore first of all ignore their own needs and realistically assess and ban the dangers, for example by looking after the child or through other measures.
If the child is then at home alone overnight, there are a few precautions that need to be taken to ensure safety. There should be no lack of security measures, especially in large houses that are attractive for burglars. In addition to reducing the risk of burglary, this point also serves to calm the child down, because parents should never underestimate their fears of being alone.
What if the child is too scared?
Such fears are completely normal and can usually be brought under control with a little practice. However, there are also exceptional cases in which the child is too afraid of being left alone despite burglary protection and the like. So what?
Affected parents should not throw in the towel straight away, because overcoming this fear also gives the child an advantage in terms of increased self-confidence. In such cases, however, you should proceed with particular care. The duration and reasons for the absence should be discussed with the child in advance. It is important to gain their approval instead of turning being alone into some kind of surprise or even punishment.
The specific question about the child’s fears can be the key to finding the right solution. Is the child afraid that the parents will not return? Parents and children can then stay connected via the app, for example. If, on the other hand, the child is afraid of being overwhelmed in an unfamiliar situation, neighbors, who spend the period in question at home anyway, may act as contact persons in an emergency and thus give the child a feeling of security, help and supervision in a positive sense.
At the beginning, being alone usually works better during the day than in the evening or at night in the dark. As already mentioned, every child is individual and therefore needs a different amount of time. With a little practice, it should work earlier or a little later, even for anxious children (of the right age).
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