When to Leave Kids Home Alone?

| June 7, 2014 | 1 Comment

Happy girlIt’s a rite of passage: finally being deemed old enough to stay home alone. It’s also a rite of passage of sorts for parents, who need to swallow their anxiety the first time they drive away from the house with their child inside, without an adult to care for him. At 11 and 9, my kids are old enough to stay home together while I run to the corner store; I’m usually back in 15 minutes or so. I’ve recently also left my older child home for a half hour while I ran his sister over to a friend’s house. It’s nerve-wracking, but a necessary step in raising kids into grownups.

So, what’s the answer? Is there one “right” age for leaving your child home alone for the first time? Several factors come into play, all of which you should consider in making this personal decision for your family:

  • The law. In some states, there is a minimum age for kids staying home alone. If your state has such a law, then you should follow it to avoid legal problems should anything happen while you’re away. In other states, of course, there is no such rule, and it’s left up to the parents’ discretion.
  • Your child’s responsibility level. Age is but a number. Some 10-year-olds are responsible enough to stay home alone, but some 13-year-olds might not be. Does your child constantly look for a way to not follow the rules, or is she a stickler for doing the right thing? Does she know what to do if someone unfamiliar were to come to the door, if there was a fire, or if the power went out? These are all considerations to keep in mind.
  • Proximity to others. Do you have neighbors that your child could call or go to in case of an emergency? If not, who (besides you) is the nearest person your child could contact? It eases my mind to know that my husband works only a mile or so from the house, and could get home in five minutes if he had to.
  • How far you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. There’s a big difference between leaving a child for 10 minutes and for 10 hours. Kids should be able to stay home for a few minutes before you leave for an hour, and for a couple of hours before you leave them for a day. Also, if you’re shopping in town, you’re more easily reached than if you are going to an appointment an hour away. Do remember, however, that even if you’re staying close to home, there’s always a chance that you’ll get into a fender bender or experience a flat tire and you might be gone longer than you’d anticipated.
  • Siblings. Some kids do better when left with a similar-aged sibling. My kids tend to bicker, so I don’t feel comfortable leaving them alone together for more than a few minutes at a time. Decide ahead of time whether one child is in charge of the others, or if they’re each responsible for him- or herself.

Also, before you leave, go over the rules as they pertain to snacks, television, video games, telephone usage and having friends over. One of the first times I left my son home alone, I tried calling and panicked when there was no answer; I hurried home only to realize that he didn’t know that he should answer the phone. Talking about your expectations beforehand can save everyone some grief and worry!

How old were your kids when you first left them home alone? Or, if your children are too young, when do you anticipate being able to leave them?

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