Staying Home Alone: How to Know If Your Child's Ready and How to Prepare

Girl reading a book on sofa

Staying home alone is a rite of passage for your child, as well as for you as a parent. Yes, it’s a little terrifying, but with careful consideration and preparation, you can empower your children and help them begin to stand confidently on their own.

Legal Restrictions

Many states do not have legal guidelines mandating what age children can be left alone, so it’s up to you as a parent to make a judgment call, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Latchkey-kids.com features a chart that breaks down the official parameters by state. Consult this first and check to see if your state is one of the few that does regulate the age of which a child can stay home alone.

Signs That Your Child Is Ready

Maturity and good judgment are two essential traits that your child must possess before you leave him or her home alone. Does your child understand and follow the rules? Do you trust your child to make good decisions on his or her own when you’re not around? Can you count on your child to be honest with you? If you answered no or are unsure of the answers to these questions, it’s likely that your child isn’t ready for this responsibility yet. Your child may be ready to stay home alone if he or she:

  • Completes schoolwork without constant prodding
  • Does household chores on his or her own
  • Clearly communicates with you
  • Understands the importance of avoiding strangers
  • Follows safety measures
  • Makes good decisions in unexpected situations

Protecting Your Home

If you don’t already have a home security system, now is the time to add one. It will help both you and your child feel safer knowing that the house is protected. To find an alarm that suits your needs, find a website that has a home security systems review section, such as Consumer Reports or another comparison site. Choose an alarm that’s easy to use so your child can use it on his or her own.

Have a Trial Run

KidsHealth.org recommends doing a short practice run for 30 minutes before leaving your child alone for a longer duration. Don’t go too far; you should stay nearby so you can help your child if he or she gets scared or encounters an issue. This is a less risky way to help both of you get comfortable with your child staying home alone.

Make a Plan

Have your child help you come up with some rules for staying home alone. Candidly encourage your child to voice his or her concerns and suggestions. Is he or she worried about strangers knocking that the door? Make it a rule not to answer the door when home alone. If you need to have friends or family members come over when you’re out, have your child choose a safe “password” that they must say before he or she will answer the door. Other scenarios you should plan for:

  • How to answer the telephone
  • What to do if there’s a power outage
  • Severe weather such as a snow storm or tornado
  • How to use a fire extinguisher

A little preparation goes a long way for a successful first experience staying home alone.

Author bio: Maria Berlin

A stay-at-home mom and freelance writer, Maria loves spending extra time with her awesome kids.

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