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When Can You Start Leaving Kids Home Alone?

Parenting

This post is sponsored by Sittercity. CertifiKID receives compensation from companies whose products we recommend to our audience. However, we only promote businesses we genuinely believe in and feel will appeal to our subscribers.

First words, first steps, and first solid foods are heavily talked about milestones in your kid’s lives. There are charts to help you monitor and understand when they are ready to cross those lines. As they get older it seems the charts and guideposts fade away, but the milestones don’t stop coming. First drop-off only party, first solo walk to school, first sleepover, the list goes on and on.

One of the biggest milestone questions: When can my kid stay home alone?

There’s no question that a 6-year-old shouldn’t be left without supervision and that a 16-year-old can handle it. But what about the murkier ages in between? How do parents know when to start this transition to independence?

Below are a few things to consider and questions to ask yourself:

Every State Is Different...

Before you begin assessing your child’s readiness, find out your state’s laws regarding what age kids can be left home alone. In some cases, these laws function more as suggestions; others are hard and fast rules; and some states provide no guidance at all. Regardless, you don’t want your 45-minute grocery trip to turn into a legal ordeal, so do a little research first. Your state government’s website should provide an explanation of any rules.

So is Every Child.

Knowing your child is key to deciding whether or not he is ready to be home without a sitter or parent. As you think about leaving your child solo, ask yourself the following questions.

1.     Are they emotionally ready to be left alone? Your 11-year-old may be excited at the prospect of newfound independence, but once he is alone in the house, fear and panic could set in. You know your child best: Is he likely to be scared without mom, dad or a sitter there to keep him company?

2.     Do they follow rules without too much intervention from an adult in charge? If a child struggles to follow house rules with you or a sitter, it’s not likely that she’ll be able to abide by your wishes once she’s on her own.

3.     Can they handle an emergency? Make sure your child knows how and when to dial 9-1-1, understands how to evacuate the house in the event of a fire, and can perform first aid basics. But evaluating your child’s ability to stay cool under pressure can be tough: Most parents haven’t had the opportunity to observe their kid in an emergency situation, so consider how she responds when something doesn’t go her way. Does your child tend to manage chaos with relative ease and flexibility? If the answer is no, you may want to hold off on having her stay home alone.

4.     Do they show good judgment? Daredevils may need oversight so they don’t turn the living room into a ninja-style obstacle course during your dentist appointment. But good judgment isn’t just about your kid’s desire to turn your house into his personal jungle gym. Does your child follow your instructions when it comes to interacting with strangers or will your outgoing kid open the door and invite anyone who shows up into the house? A child’s ability to evaluate risk and avoid dangerous situations is critical when home alone.

5.     What other responsibilities come with being home alone? Are there younger siblings who your older child will be expected to watch? Will those younger kids listen to an older brother or sister? While a child may be ready to take care of himself, he may not yet be able to care for others.

If you’ve decided your child is ready for the responsibility, set your kid up for success by communicating clear expectations and ground rules for when he is in the house by himself. Go over safety instructions. Make sure your child has access to a cell phone so she can call you or another adult in case of an emergency. Quiz her on what to do if a stranger rings the doorbell. And maybe most importantly: Leave snacks that don’t require the use of kitchen appliances or sharp utensils in an accessible location.

Test the Waters

Leaving a child home alone for the first time can be scary for both of you—which is why you should start by leaving him for about 20 minutes and work up to longer periods of time. It’s also best if you can start by letting him stay home when you have short errands that you can easily abandon if things aren’t going well. Check in by phone or text every 10-15 minutes the first few times you leave your child. As you and your child get more comfortable, you can extend the amount of time you’re gone.

When in Doubt, Hire a Sitter

There’s really no reason to rush a child into staying home alone before they are ready, and there are plenty of scenarios where a tween should have supervision. Ask yourself these questions when considering whether or not hiring a sitter makes sense:

  • Will I be gone more than 2-3 hours?
  • Is my full attention required at the event I’m attending? Will I be in a situation that is difficult to leave quickly (such as an important business dinner)?
  • Is it night time?
  • Will my child need to be transported somewhere while I’m gone?
  • Are there other kids in the house who need supervision?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it makes sense to stick with a sitter for now. And there’s nothing wrong with that! You can continue giving your child more independence as you work up to longer periods of time home alone while still hiring a sitter for specific occasions to ensure your child’s safety.

CertifiKid is offering 30% off a membership with Sittercity, a platform that lets you connect with local sitters and build a list of go-tos.

Bottom line: As with all developmental milestones, there’s no need to rush it. Follow the pace that makes sense for both you and the child.


 

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