Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?
By Meg Brunson
As parents we're expected to make a lot of really difficult decisions where our kids are concerned. We're also always doubting whether we made the right decision or not. We've spent the first years of our child's life protecting them from harm and once they hit school-age, things change. They go off to school and become less dependent on their parents, and sooner or later, we're confronted with the question: can I leave these kids home?
There are many situations where you may unexpectedly feel like you have little option but to leave your school-aged child home alone:
- Baby sitter falls through
- Important business meeting at work
- Early-release from School
- Snow day
- Delayed by traffic
Along with these unexpected emergencies, though, or even in order to prepare for them, it's essential that we begin the process of gradually allowing and empowering our young children to be more independent so that they can slowly and steadily turn into the adults we hope they will be. At some point between the ages of 7-14 this will include allowing our children to be home alone for short periods of time.
So, are your kids ready? Here are some factors to consider.
Is it Legal?
It's quite obvious that a 5-year-old cannot be left home alone, but that a 16-year-old probably can... but what about all of those school-aged kids in between? Do you know what the laws are where you live? Currently three states have specific laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone: Illinois (14 years old), Maryland (8 years old), and Oregon (10 years old). If you're living in another state, it's worth it to check out your local legal guidelines.
- Are there neighbors you know and trust?
- Do you live on a busy street with lots of traffic, or is it a quiet area?
- What are crime rates?
The safety of your neighborhood and willingness of your neighbors to be available for your children if needed may play a factor in whether you are willing to allow your child to stay home regularly or only in emergency situations.
- Are they responsible with homework, chores, and following directions?
- Does your child remain calm in unexpected/emergency situations?
- Do they understand and follow rules and safety measures?
Following rules and safety measures, limiting risk-taking behaviors, remaining calm in unusual situations, and being responsible are all indicators that your child may be ready to stay home alone for short periods of time. If they are not quite there yet, they should still learn the skills in case of emergencies and to prepare for the right time down the road.
How Long Will You Be Gone?
- The longer you plan to be gone, the more responsible your child should be.
It's always recommended to start with short periods of time and build up to longer periods of alone-time as children demonstrate ongoing responsibility through their experiences. You can practice this (and may already have practiced without thinking about it) if you hop in the shower while your child is awake and watching TV or by leaving your child alone when you walk next door to chat with a neighbor. In the beginning, you should remain easily accessible.
What Does Your Child Want?
- Is your child interested in staying home alone?
- Would your child feel safe if they were alone?
Make sure you are communicating with your child. If they are not comfortable, then they should not be pushed to be home alone before they are ready. The comfort of your child is of utmost importance. If they are nervous, or not interested, in being home alone yet, you can still teach them skills now that will be a great way to boost their self-assurance and confidence (and yours!)
If today is not the day, or now is not the right time, that's okay! It is not a race to a finish line, but it is important that we don't stop moving forward. Identifying the skills that your child needs to know in order to stay home alone, and then reinforcing those skills in a variety of ways, will help your child prepare for that next step in their independence.
Think your kids might be old enough to stay home alone? Make sure they're ready with this list of tips on how to ensure your child is prepared to stay home alone, and read our product review of the online Home Alone Class.
© 2017 Meg Brunson
Meg is a mommy blogger, Facebook marketer, and much more. She is a mom to four kids who live in Peoria, AZ and is the local Editor of KidsOutAndAbout Phoenix - helping parents and caregivers find free and affordable things to do with kids, out and about in Arizona. As a former Facebook employee, Meg remains a Facebook addict and handles KidsOutAndAbout.com's Social Media Marketing in addition to running a digital marketing agency at EIEIOMarketing.com.