One of the biggest worries I had when I was a single parent was when was it appropriate for my child to be left home alone. Obviously, I wasn't going to leave my 10yr old to watch his 5yr old brother, but could the 10yr old be left alone for 30 mins or so while I ran to the corner store for milk & eggs?
Or what if I was running late from work and the bus arrived already?
Could they be trusted for 15-20 minutes alone?
Another scenario happened quite a bit while I was a single mother. One of the boys were sick, so they couldn't go to their normal caregiver, so I would have to find someone to stay with them. As a single mother, I couldn't call off work every time one of them were sick. It just wasn't fair to my job, nor would excess call-offs be acceptable. I tried to reserve call offs for the projectile vomiting, serious injuries, etc. Luckily, I had an awesome mom or grandmother who would watch the boys for me if they were a little sniffly, but that wasn't always the case.
So when is an appropriate age for a child to be left home alone?
First, consider those federal regulations recommend that children be at least 12 before they are left without adult supervision. Your state might have specific guidelines as well. If your child does meet the age criteria, the following overview can help you determine when it’s safe to leave your children unsupervised.
Tips to Give You Peace of Mind
- Your adolescent can follow emergency procedures should a problem arise.
- He or she shows a level of responsibility, such as cooperation with chores.
- Consider your locale, such as near-by neighbors that you trust, the safety of your community, if you live in a busy or isolated area and the accessibility of emergency personnel.
- Keep in touch with your child while you’re away. Take advantage of technology, such as smartphones and even Google Chromecast or Amazon Alexa where you can drop in
What is an Appropriate Age for a Child to be Left Home Alone?
Set clear expectations in writing
- Can he or she leave the house
- What chores need to be done (don't give them too many though)
- Internet and TV rules
- Are friends allowed to come over
- Build in some flexibility in the schedule.
- Include consequences for violations
- reward when expectations are followed
Do several trial runs
- Start at one hour, and then three or four hours
- It helps them build up their confidence as well as your trust
Enlist a trusted friend during one of the test runs
- Test if your child opens the door for them or gives them information (that you're not home, etc)
If trial runs don't work out to expectation
- explain exactly what he or she did wrong and give the child-specific ways to improve.
- Give your child another opportunity to earn time alone at home.
- Try again in another week or so.
- Remind him or her that as they keep showing increasing responsibility, you will increase his or her freedom.
Demonstrate responsibility to your children
- Such as modeling a positive attitude in every situation.
Teach your child basic first aid.
- You can even enroll your young person in a first aid course or CPR class through the American Red Cross or similar agencies.
- Emphasize the importance of safety in the home and when it comes to strangers.
Determine a backup plan
- If leaving your child home alone doesn’t work out, look for other options.
Children can enjoy increased self-confidence when they learn how to manage on their own.
You are helping him or her on the path to adulthood by working with them at staying home alone.