There comes a time in every parent’s life when it’s necessary to admit that your child is ready to stay at home alone for short periods of time. The idea of leaving your child to his own devices may be terrifying, but it’s a necessary step along the path to an independent adulthood and is likely to become a source of tension between you and your child when he feels that he’s just too old for a babysitter. Figuring out when your child is ready to make that leap isn’t always a simple task, though. If you’re faced with the looming prospect of leaving your child at home unattended, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before making your final decision.
Learn the Laws in Your Area
Laws governing when a child is allowed to look after himself vary from state to state, and may be a bit more complicated than you realize. In some areas, your child may be legally allowed to stay home alone for a specified amount of time only if he’s not in charge of caring for any younger children. In others, he may still be too young to stay home without running the risk of serious legal issues. While the maturity level and developmental age of your child are very important pieces of this particular puzzle, they never trump the legal requirements of your state or city.
Objectively Evaluate Your Child’s Level of Responsibility
Before your child stays home alone, he needs to demonstrate to you that he’s responsible enough to be trusted with the task. Even if he’s far beyond the legal minimum age to stay home unsupervised in your area, you may want to think twice before you leave an unruly child who isn’t capable of managing even basic tasks for himself alone. Can your child prepare a meal or snack for himself safely? Can he be trusted to complete his homework and adhere to house rules while there’s no one there to make sure that he behaves? There are a series of questions you should ask yourself about your child’s maturity and responsibility level before you decide to let him stay home alone for the first time.
Consider Your Child’s Ability to Manage an Emergency
Whether you want to think about it or not, there’s a chance that your child will be faced with an unforeseen situation while you’re not there to manage it for him. He may even be thrust into an emergency situation, so it’s absolutely imperative that he has the capability to handle basic emergency preparedness. Kids who don’t deal well with stress or are very dependent upon an adult to manage everyday life may not be ideal candidates for staying home alone.
Keep the Duration of His Stay in Mind
When you’re attempting to determine whether or not your child is prepared to handle staying home without adult supervision, it’s important to take the expected duration of his stay into consideration. A child who’s more than capable of handling a few hours after school as a latchkey kid may not be prepared for spending an entire day and evening alone on a snow day or during summer vacation. The longer your child is left alone, the higher his chances of encountering a situation he’s not prepared for. Make sure that you give careful thought to the amount of time he’ll be spending on his own, because it can make quite a difference in terms of his readiness.
Make a Trial Run or Two
If you’re considering a continuing arrangement in which your child will be left unattended for a specified amount of time each day, it’s wise to make a few trial runs before the big decision is made. Consider leaving your child behind while you make a quick trip to the grocery store or down the street to run an errand. As long as you’re easily reached and can return home at a moment’s notice to manage unforeseen events, you can give your child a taste of independence while observing his ability to deal with the added responsibility without placing him in real danger.
At the end of the day, no one knows as well as you do whether or not your child is prepared to take care of himself for a few hours. Making sure that you’re in compliance with all local laws and that you follow your own instincts is important, especially if you feel that you’re being pressured into leaving your child alone, but aren’t quite convinced that he’s up to the challenge yet.
Is Your Tween Ready to Stay Home Alone This Summer?
Let’s face it…being the parent of a tween isn’t easy. They aren’t little kids anymore, but they aren’t quite teens yet (even if many of them act like they are). One minute, they’re cleaning their room without being asked. The next, they’ve forgotten their lunch, homework, and gym shoes at home. Sometimes they seem to be helpless, the next minute their maturity astonishes you.
All of this can create difficulties when it comes time to make summer plans for tweens. Sometimes, the same old camp just doesn’t appeal any more. Or they grow out of programs that have worked for years. And these days, money is tight, paid programming expensive, and the summer long. So most parents will at some time or another face the dilemma of whether or not they should let their tween stay home alone for part or all of the day during a portion of the summer. A 2008 report from the National Poll on Children’s Health found that 18% of parents allowed their tweens between the ages of 11 and 13 to stay home alone for more than 3 hours.
What does it take to prepare a pre-teen to be safe when home alone? The survey looked at several topics on which tweens should be trained and prepared:
- Where to go and what to do in case of severe weather;
- Where to go and what to do in case of fire;
- How to protect privacy when using the telephone and the Internet;
- The safe use of kitchen appliances; and
- Prohibitions on use of firearms.
Over a third of parents surveyed weren’t confident that their kids would follow safety guidelines on where to go during sever weather or how to answer the phone to protect privacy. Almost a third lacked confidence that their preteens know how to protect privacy over the Internet or how to use kitchen appliances safely. Almost 20% are fearful that their children will not leave the house immediately in case of fire.
While these may be the most crucial items that every tween should know, a few more things could be added to this list, such as:
- Not answering the door to anyone when home alone;
- Knowing when to call 911 and being prepared to give the required information;
- Knowing how to contact parents or another trusted adult;
- Whether or not a friend can come over while parents are gone;
- Whether or not the child can leave the house and, if necessary, under what circumstances.
Even if you don’t plan to leave your tween home alone this summer, this is an excellent age to begin to educate and prepare them to eventually stay safely on their own. Talk with them about what the hazards are and how they can be prevented, demonstrate the right way to use appliances and answer the phone, make lists of what to do and what not to do, and who to call and when. Post important instructions and phone numbers in a prominent place, and make sure your child know where to find them.
Here are some resources to help you prepare you kids for the inevitable day when they will have to be independent, at least for a few hours.
- Preparing to Your Preteen to Spend Time Home Alone: http://www.tweenparent.com/articles/view/116
- Leaving Your Child Home Alone: http://www.onetoughjob.org/tips/teens/leaving-your-child-home-alone
- Tips for Staying Home Alone: http://www.pamf.org/preteen/growingup/safety/homealone.html
- Weather Safety: http://www.livestrong.com/article/206241-weather-safety-tips-for-kids/
- Fire Safety: http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/Public%20Education/Translation_Escape_Planning_English.pdf
Thank you for reading this article on How to Know if Your Child is Ready to Stay Home Alone.
Please check back with us as we add new articles, blogs and videos daily!
Here are some other books, blogs and videos that also cover child safety:
Is Your Child Ready to Be Home Alone?
Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?
When Are Kids Ready to Stay Home Alone?
My children are at the age when I can leave them home alone (together) for an hour or two. It’s nice! I can zip to the grocery store or to the post office, and they get a break from running errands. But I still get that little “what if” …
All children are not the same. Some 12-year-olds may be ready to stay home alone, but not all will be. To determine if they may be ready, consider the following: how is your child at handling emergencies, following instructions …
The circumstances under which your child is left home alone can determine the success of his or her experience. While your tween may be ready to stay at home alone, he or she may not be ready to care for younger siblings.
Home alone: Is your child ready? 3/15/13
To determine whether your child is ready to stay home alone after school, consider her personality and temperament, Dr. Gavin advises. If your child is not good at following rules or instructions, or if your child is generally fearful, he might not …
Follow Us On Pinterest & Facebook