How Old is Old Enough for Kids to be Home Alone?

Posted May 27, 2016 by

Photo of rebeccawolfenden

One of my earliest memories is of my parents getting ready to leave me home alone for the first time, while they went out to dinner. I was in the bathroom, looking for nail polish. I blew my nose, and heard my father ask my mom, “Is she okay in there? Is she crying because we’re going out?” My mom opened the door and saw me calmly painting my nails. “She’s clearly unmoved,” my mom said.

I don’t remember how old I was exactly, but I couldn’t have been more than 11. Some parents would never leave their eleven-year-old home alone. Other parents feel confident leaving their younger children at home under the care of an eleven-year-old.

How young is too young to be left home alone?

This is the time of year where many working parents are faced with this challenge: school is out, day camp only covers so much, and you just don’t have enough hours in the day to cover all your bases. Unfortunately, our work culture sometimes makes it difficult for parents to put their kids’ needs first. What if you have no option but to leave your kids home alone?

Deciding when to leave your kids home alone is a really big step, and it comes with a lot of doubts, concerns, and questions.

There are some broad guidelines, and some specific requirements, to take into consideration as you navigate this for your family. State laws actually dictate how old your child must be before they can be legally left home alone. Please be sure to check out the laws for your state.

Regardless of whether your child can legally be left home alone, your first strategy might be leaning on family members or older siblings. You might also look into collaborative neighborhood associations – there are many families in just the same situation you are. A cooperative method of childcare has saved many families from the stress of knitting together family needs in the face of real world work requirements. Reaching out to your neighbors might even help expand your network of support beyond your childcare needs.

If your child is legally able to stay home alone, and friends and family aren’t an option, you’ll need to draft a clear plan for your child’s safety while home alone. Your child’s ability to make good choices is far more important than their actual age: how are they at following rules around safety? Can they both understand and follow through with a plan, should they require help while you’re away?

One important step towards success for you and your child is to clearly lay out your expectations, and to discuss their fears or concerns about being left alone. It’s also a good idea to do some short test-runs, leaving them home alone for no more than 30 minutes, increasing that duration over time. This helps build their confidence, and allows you to more closely monitor how ready they are for this big step.

There are a lot more great ideas, including ways to help your child learn to be responsible enough to stay home alone, in this article:

Is Your Child Responsible Enough to be Home Alone? Dos and Don’ts for Parents

About

Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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  1. Judith Cromwell Report

    Not sure I am in the right place …. I need to know who that 15 almost 16 year boy is who appears at my sons door …. where did my boy go and how to I get to know the strange teenager he has been replaced with ??

    Reply
  2. How Old is Old Enough for Kids to be Home Alone? - Parents' Guide® Asia Report

    […] post How Old is Old Enough for Kids to be Home Alone? appeared first on Empowering […]

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  3. Ostrix Report

    It’s a good question and it really depends on the child. The best thing is to ask the child how they feel about staying alone and leaving them with a cellphone in case of emergencies.

    Reply
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  5. Stepmom Report

    I wish there were more resources available for parents needing someone to watch older children & teens during the summer vacation. Even though there’s so much on the news about kids no longer being allowed to play outside alone or walk alone and it seems like kids are being more supervised than ever, there’s so much judgement over parents not wanting to leave their teens home alone while at work nor many programs to help working parents. 

    My stepdaughter is 15 and is not trustworthy to be left alone and is dealing with mental illness. Trying to find some sort of program she can go into has been impossible due to her behavior issues and we can’t  find anyone to babysit for an affordable price. It seems like most girls who want to babysit are younger than her. And unfortunately, after her father and I spoke to several potential babysitter who attend the same high school, some of her classmates found out about her needing a babysitter and have been teasing her on social media about it.

    Reply
  6. Singlemom Report

    I left my 10 year old at home for 6 hours at daytime. She washed up after lunch then proceeded to entertain herself with craft work, a book and her ipad. The next time I left her for 4 hours to go it for work dinner. She didn’t want a babysitter as she felt confident enough to be on her own). She washed up after dinner got ready for bed and called to say goodnight before 9. By the time i got home she was fast asleep and the cat fed.
    I decided she was mature enough to stay home during the week term break. She made herself simple lunches, had a neighbour over, went to the park or to the neighbours but always kep me informed before leaving and when she’s home. Eventually, she was able to start dinner (eg I would prepare roast for her to chuck in the oven or start boiling food, etc)
    It does come down to the child but in retrospect, I think teaching children responsibility (with everything – from school work to simple chores and taking care of her things) and consequences of actions from a very early age does help. Growing up with a single full time working parent has taught her to be responsible at an early age but I always made sure she knew I was there for her and I think our close relationship has helped her accept that we need to be there for each other. For this reason I think she knows that I have to be able to rely on her including when she is home alone.

    Reply
  7. Alice Marie Report

    Kids can be 14 years old, but still not emotionally mature enough to stay home alone. There is no “set in stone” age where kids magically become mature enough to stay home by themselves.  Parents really need to realistically consider the maturity level of their child, as well as how well he/she follows directions.  If your child is a real risk-taker, then wait a few more years!!!  My cousin let his 12 year old son stay home for 4 hours  after school with 3 of his friends.  Bad idea!  They started skateboarding off the garage roof, and his son broke his arm.  (Not all kids are that reckless, thank goodness!)  The better you know your kid(s), the better choices you’ll make deciding when it’s acceptable or not to leave your child at home alone.  Good luck!

    Reply
  8. MaMaMz Report

    If I get a blank stare I ask him to repeat what I just said, if incorrect I make eye contact and repeat myself. Usually body language or a lack of eye contact or even his facial expression will signal a lie has been composed. If so I tell him I know he’s lied and unless he wants a double consequence he will surrender the truth. Punishment is much less if it’s the truth no matter how bad. (We just have to remember to give credit for the truth!)

    Reply
  9. Lyn Report

    If I may ask, have you experienced your kids,when scolded,either answers you back or will just give you a blank stare?
    How do you handle them?on top of this,kids lie or do the reverse of what you told them to do.
    I need advise please,,
    Thanks

    Reply
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