Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?

There is no magic age when children become old enough, mature enough, or responsible enough to be left home alone while Mom and Dad go out. Most states do not set a minimum age limit on when children can legally be left home alone. In fact only four states, including Oregon, Maryland, Illinois and Georgia, set a minimum age limit (a few others make recommendations). Here is a complete list by state.

There is a general consensus out there among professionals that children under the age of 10 lack the degree of responsibility and the maturity to be left home alone, and the National SAFEKIDS campaign recommends that children be at least 12 before they are allowed to stay home unattended. When it comes right down to it you need to consider your child and your family circumstances before deciding if your child is ready to stay home alone. One child may be ready at 10 while another won’t even seem ready at 13 or 14.

A few things to consider when deciding whether your child is ready of not include:

  • Does your child want to be left home alone? If your child shows no interest in being left home alone, and would prefer that someone be there with him or her than he or she probably isn’t ready yet.
  • Is your child physically, mentally and emotionally ready to take care of him or herself? Obviously, if your child has any developmental delays you may need to consider waiting until he or she is much older. Some children also mature much slower than others and won’t necessarily be capable of taking care of themselves yet.
  • Does your child, in general, make good decisions and obey the rules and boundaries you establish? A child who has exhibited an inability to obey rules or shows signs of poor decision making should probably not be left home alone.
  • Is your house safe? Things to consider are all the appropriate child-safety features on dangerous items including ovens, electrical outlets, medications, dangerous cleaning solutions, guns, etc.
  • Does your child know how to contact you or the authorities in case of an emergency? Before you even consider leaving your child home alone you will need to go over all the necessary contact information, where to find it, how to use it, etc.

Once you have decided that your child is indeed ready to be left home alone it is a good idea to take a few steps to help ensure their time alone is a success. You want them to be equipped with everything necessary to help keep them safe, and you want to make sure that they are capable of being home alone.

Before your first “big” outing with your child left home alone it is probably a good idea to:

  1. Take a few trial runs. Go on a couple of quick trips, start out with only 10-15 minute trips and increase the duration over a few outings. This will allow you a chance to see how your child does before they are left alone for an extended period of time.
  2. Role play a few different scenarios to help teach your child what to different in different situations and to allow yourself the chance to see how your child will handle him or herself.
  3. Establish a firm set of rules. Make sure your child understands each of the rules. Consider posting the rules where your child can easily see them. Seeing the list of rules may help your child stick with the rules!
  4. Make sure all important contact numbers are clearly posted where your child can find them and make sure your child understands and is capable of using the phone to call someone if needed.

No matter how many times your practice or how confident you are that your child is ready to be left home alone it will always be a bit nerve wracking the first time. If you have done everything you can to teach your child about being home alone, made sure the house is safe, and know that your child is mature enough to handle it than everything should go just fine.

If you aren’t sure if your child is ready or you have questions about leaving your child home alone consider talking to your child’s pediatrician or even their teacher. Other parents who have older children can be great resources as well.

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5 comments on “Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?

  1. This is an important and informative article. Thanks, Lisa. Especially if you lack a support system, it’s very hard to know what to do and sometimes decisions are made out of desperation rather than good planning. Good info.

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