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5 Considerations When Leaving Your Child Home Alone

Mighty Mommy shares 5 tips to consider when deciding if your cherub is ready to go it alone.

By
Cheryl Butler,
May 14, 2018
Episode #480

image of a boy home alone

I grew up the oldest of five kids. We were all close in age—one to two years apart. My eldest status, my personality, and my already-emerging maternal instincts definitely placed me in the role as the second mother among my siblings very early on. I always gravitated toward games like “house” or “school."  I loved pretending I was the Betty Crocker mom who always had homemade cookies cooling on my kitchen counter or the most patient teacher in the world, the one who never yelled and could handle even the most difficult class clowns. This probably made it easier on my own mother when she began leaving me at home alone. 

That was back in the day, however, when it really didn’t phase parents to leave their nine-year-old home while they ran a few errands or played bridge with the neighbors in the afternoon. These were the same days when my siblings and I would leave the house after breakfast and not return until dinner without checking in once! The generation I grew up in simply didn’t worry about the same issues we as parents face today—alcohol and drug abuse, child abduction and pedophile horrors, gun control, mental-health issues—a list of unsettling scenarios we know much more about now than back then thanks to our age of information. 

Despite how different our parental controls have become through the years, we do all face that moment when we start to wrestle with the idea of leaving our kids home alone. The reasons vary. It might be financial. It might be a canceled sitter with no back up. Or it might be a child who is starting to make a little noise about how he/she thinks it’s time for some independence without mom or dad hovering on their home turf. In due course, every parent will face this decision.

Leaving your child at home on his own can seem daunting, but it’s also another exciting milestone in his development and for you as a parent who is trying to raise a self-sufficient, independent young person. Here, Mighty Mommy shares five tips to consider when deciding if your cherub is ready to go it alone.

5 Considerations When Leaving Your Child Home Alone

  1. Is Age a Factor?
  2. Is your Child Emotionally Ready?
  3. Home Alone Circumstances?
  4. Have You Set Guidelines for Being Home Alone?
  5. Prepare for a Trial Run.

1. Is Age a Factor?

When I was in middle school, I had plenty of friends who returned home to an empty house. There was a name for them back then, latchkey kids. Basically, both parents worked so no one was home to greet them when they stepped off the bus. The image most people have is of a kid wearing a key strung around his or her neck, hence the term latchkey. Most of my friends had a key tucked away under a flower pot or in the milk box, but to this day, when a child is referred to in this manner, it's that image of a key swinging from the neck that stands out.

Some states actually do have legal age guidelines for when a child is considered old enough to be home alone. While not every state has weighed in on an age guideline, parents always know their kids better than anyone else, so your knowledge of your child’s maturity level, strengths, and quirks is a huge factor in knowing whether or not the time is right for this new level of independence.

I used the age of 10 as a general guideline for a few of my kids in my brood of eight, the ones I knew were ready to handle the responsibility of not having mom or dad home. However, several of them were just not capable at this age. They knew it and I knew it, so I waited until we were both comfortable with the situation.

We live in a pretty close-knit neighborhood, which also helped make it easier for me to let a budding young tween be afforded the privilege of staying home alone. Most of the time, a friend nearby had a heads up and was at the ready to assist if needed.

Some considerations when factoring in your child’s age:

  • Location: Are you in a neighborhood or a busy section of town, with a trusted neighbor as a contact?
  • Cell Phone: Does your child have a cell phone to use in case something comes up and a list of phone numbers on paper should the cell phone die?
  • Medical Restrictions: Does your child have asthma, diabetes, or other conditions that might be of concern?

Once the age decision is settled, you can begin to move on to the other factors.

2. Is Your Child Emotionally Ready?

Age is certainly a great place to start when gauging if a child is ready to be left alone, even if only for a small period of time, but you also need to pay attention to her emotional cues as well. You may have a hearty 12-year-old child who is healthy and strong but is super sensitive and can’t seem to cope with even minor setbacks.

For instance, one of my daughters was always on top of her homework and very organized in caring for her bedroom and personal things. But if I changed our routine for some reason, she struggled to get herself back on track. It would often take an hour or more to get re-focused. She was not one of my kids that I felt I could leave alone at an earlier age. She agreed.

Some considerations for emotional readiness to be left home alone:

  • Isn’t overly sensitive.
  • Doesn’t panic easily.
  • Is comfortable asking for help from other adults.
  • Is responsible with family pets.
  • Can follow rules and directions.
  • Isn’t sneaky.

If you feel your child meets these or similar emotional requirements, he’s one step closer to this privilege.

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