This school year, many parents will look at their children and try to decide whether they need after-school care or if they’re able to stay home by themselves until mom and dad get home from work.
There is no exact age when all children are able to stay home alone. Only three states in the U.S. currently have laws with age requirements for leaving a child home alone. However, most states and counties have guidelines or recommendations.
Is My Child Ready?
In general, most experts say you can consider leaving children between 8 to 10 years old home by themselves for an hour or two.
But don’t go by age alone. Different children mature at different rates – one child might be responsible enough at age 9, while another might not be ready until they’re 12 or 14. And if you have more than one child, you’ll have to decide whether your oldest is ready to stay home with their sibling(s) – which most guidelines say shouldn’t happen until the oldest child is at least 11 years old.
Different factors will help you determine whether your child is ready for the responsibility of being at home alone. Consider:
- Does your child obey the rules and make good decisions?
- Can your child take care of themselves?
- How safe is your neighborhood?
- Are there other adults nearby that you trust and can offer assistance in an emergency?
Ways to Keep Your Child Safe
Being able to stay home by themselves is a big milestone for kids – and for parents. Here are a few ways to get ready for letting your kid stay home by themselves.
Make sure they know what to do in different situations.
Write down emergency numbers, and make sure your kids know when and how to dial 911. Put first aid supplies in an easy to find location. Teach your child to lock windows and doors, and that they shouldn’t go to a neighbor’s or friend’s house without your permission. Make sure your child knows what to do if a stranger knocks on the door, or if they smell smoke.
Give them something to do.
Simple chores – like cleaning out the dishwasher, feeding the dog and putting away laundry – are a good way to test your child’s responsibility and keep them busy. It’s also a way to give your child an incentive, such as once they finish their chores, they can have an hour of playing games or other screen time.
Install home security cameras.
Even if you trust your child completely, having indoor and outdoor cameras can give you more peace of mind. Being able to access the video through a smartphone app is the easiest way to quickly see how your children are doing with your own eyes.
Get a smart door lock.
Kids can be forgetful – they might come home and forget to lock the door, or they may drop their house key on the bus. Having a programmable door lock – and creating a custom code your child can remember – is an easy way to make your life simpler. And if your door lock is connected to Wi-Fi, you can use an app to lock or unlock the door remotely.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if your child is ready to stay home alone. It’s a big step – and even if you know your kid is ready, they might be nervous about it, too. You can take other steps to help you both have more peace of mind, like installing a home security and automation system. It’s a good way to encourage your child to be more independent, while also helping you feel more comfortable.