As our kids grow older and become more independent, parents begin to wonder what age is old enough for them to stay home alone. In my opinion, it’s more important to consider things like their temperament, maturity level and decision-making skills, rather than a particular age.
Being in this position as a parent can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. On one hand, these are the types of developmental milestones that we want our kids to have. It can be empowering and is another step towards their growth and independence. On the other hand, how do we know when they’re ready? We want to set them up for success.
As a mother of three and a pediatrician, I have been in the same tough spot. There are many factors to consider. I’d like to share some questions that parents can ask themselves to begin thinking about it:
8 Questions to Help Parents Decide When Their Kids Can Stay Home Alone
What is the temperament of my kids?
Are your kids calm and even-keeled? Do they think before they act? Or are they anxious and impulsive? Kids who tend to be more nervous or tend to make impulsive decisions may need supervision longer.
Do they follow rules well?
Do your kids follow your directions, rules, and boundaries well when you are home? If they have a difficulty with this when you are home, they may have even more difficulty following rules when you are not. I get concerned about things like children making decisions about appropriate internet and TV use; this would be a good time to check your parental controls.
Can they self-entertain?
Your kids will need to entertain themselves while you’re away, and you’ll need to decide what you’re comfortable with them doing. Are you okay with them being on screens? Would you prefer them to read books and play board games? Set some ground rules and make sure everyone knows the expectations.
Are you comfortable with your neighborhood?
Do you live in a safe neighborhood? Do you have a neighbor with whom you trust to check in on your kids and help with any issues? Is there a neighbor’s house that they could go to in case of an emergency?
Can they care for their basic needs?
Can your kids prepare small snacks for themselves? Pour drinks? Do they know to avoid using the oven and stove? Can they clean up after themselves?
Do you have a safety/emergency plan?
You’ll want to set some safety rules and guidelines for the house. Who should they call in an emergency? Do they know how to call 911? Do they have a way to communicate with you? When should they open the door and not open the door? What should they do if there’s a fire? Run through potential scenarios and have a plan so the child feels prepared and confident how to act in these situations. They should also be able to recite their full name, address, and phone number.
Will they be responsible for siblings?
It’s one thing for a child to be able to stay home by himself, but it takes an even more mature, capable child to be responsible for a sibling.
Have they practiced?
They may find it helpful to begin with small increments. During the day time, start with leaving your child alone while you take a 10-minute walk. Then run a quick errand. Build up to an hour or two. Allow them to practice their skills and gain confidence over time. I would like to note that nighttime is not the best time to practice, nor is it the best time for kids to stay home alone. It requires a whole different level of consideration.
In my mind, the length of time a child can be left alone should be proportional to their age, maturity level, and comfort with being left alone. If your kids are old and mature enough to stay home alone for longer periods during the day time, I recommend having a schedule to keep them busy, including some chores. Also, have a designated check-in time to make sure that everything is going well. These things teach them how to be responsible and to take care of themselves, which will help them as they continue to grow and mature.