My children are at the age when I can leave them home alone (together) for an hour or two. It’s nice! I can zip to the grocery store or to the post office, and they get a break from running errands. But I still get that little “what if” panic when I do leave them. What if they need to do CPR while I’m gone? What if a fire starts? What if they fall down and hurt themselves? Or, more likely, what if they start arguing? Leaving children home alone the first couple of times is scary. It’s tough to know if they are at a maturity level to handle it.
Parents often find themselves in a childcare no man’s land during the tween years (roughly 9 to 12). Kids this age may seem mature and capable enough to stay home alone, yet a little bit of concern still lingers. Could they truly handle an emergency? Can they make judgment calls about things you can’t foresee and follow the instructions you’ll leave for them? Here are some ways to determine if your children are ready to be home alone.
How about rules regarding screen time and internet safety? If so, you could probably reasonably expect them to do the same in your absence. If the answer is no, then staying home alone is out of the question. As a helpful reminder, you might want to review and post iMOM’s Home Alone Rules with your child.
2. Does being home alone scare them in any way?
Some kids are still scared to be left alone, and you don’t want to put them in that situation unnecessarily. A friend of mine left her son home alone—at his request—and when she came back 20 minutes later, he was hiding behind the kitchen counter. He realized he wasn’t quite ready to be home alone yet! Ask some questions in a way that gives your kids the freedom to be honest without feeling embarrassed and be sure to honor their feelings.
3. Will they be responsible for only themselves or for younger siblings as well?
A good rule of thumb here: If you are confident enough in your kids’ level of responsibility to allow them to take babysitting jobs with other families, then they may be able to care for their younger siblings. However, sibling dynamics often make this impossible. In other words, if your 11-year-old and your 8-year-old still bicker and fight to the death, one shouldn’t be left to care for the other.
If you are confident enough in your kids’ level of responsibility to allow them to take babysitting jobs with other families, then they may be able to care for their younger siblings.
4. Do you have a backup system that exists for them in case of an emergency?
You’ll be more comfortable with the idea of leaving children home alone if there is someone nearby they can reach in a minute. Calling mom or dad on the cell phone is a good alternative, but there are some situations that may call for more immediate, hands-on adult help. Is there a trusted neighbor next door who would help bandage a cut or assist in some other way if needed? If so, you may be ready to give your child a trial run.
5. How do your children handle brief periods of self-supervision?
After laying out the rules, let your child stay home while you make a run to the bank or the grocery store. If several of these short-term attempts at self-supervision go off without a hitch, you may be ready to extend the period of time your child is home alone.
If you decide your kids aren’t quite ready, check out these 6 ways to train your children to be home alone.
Tell us! Are there any other ways to know whether your child is ready to be home alone?