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.
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:
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.