Staying Home Alone: How to Know When Your Child is Ready

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Need to run a few errands? Get out of the house for a mental break or exercise? Around the time your child reaches the tween years, staying home alone may be an option. But when is it time?

There is no agreed-upon age. Five-years-old is too young, but 16 is usually just fine. But the first time a child can stay home alone is somewhere in between, and that age depends on the family and the child. 

Here are five things to consider when it comes to your kid staying in the house alone.

He wants to stay home alone. Your child is seeking more independence and has asked you to leave him by himself. He is not anxious when you are gone and he can keep himself occupied safely.

She follows your rules. Your child has shown she can follow expectations, even when you're not there. You've witnessed your child making good choices without your input. She adheres to the guidelines you have set in place about having a friend over, watching TV or a movie and time spent outdoors.

He's reliable and self-sufficient. Daily chores are done with little to no reminders. Your child can safely prepare simple snacks when he is hungry. He knows how to properly use the microwave and toaster. You can rely on him to use only the appliances you've agreed to let him use.

She uses the phone properly. If you still have a home phone, be sure your child knows how to answer it appropriately and recognizes that she should say you are unavailable at the moment, instead of "gone." In this case, fibbing is the right thing to do.

He understands safety. Your tween is familiar with basic first aid and knows what to do in case of a fire or other emergency. He knows to call 911 and other emergency numbers. He knows what he can and cannot do when you are not at home. He understands that knives cannot be used without your supervision. He knows not to open the door while you are gone and what neighbors to call or go to if he needs help. He knows the "safe" meeting spot – to find you or be found – in case anything should happen. He knows where the flashlights and extra batteries are.

Although your child may know the emergency numbers, keep a list of contacts in an easy-to-view place. Make sure all of your numbers are there too. When panic or worry sets in, the brain can flood – and we struggle to remember what we do know.

Have a simple chart of first aid tips close to the emergency contacts and numbers. (In our home, we have a brightly colored binder labeled "EMERGENCY" with our address and home phone number below. It holds contacts, emergency numbers and basic first-aid procedures. This binder remains by the kitchen phone and comes in handy for any babysitter we hire.)

If you think your child is ready to stay home solo, begin slowly, leaving her alone for five to 10 minutes the first few times and building from there. What else can you do to help your tween? Check in with your tween while you are gone. Call to see if she is comfortable, has any questions and to keep her updated on when you will arrive back home. This is an exciting time for your tween as she establishes more independence, with your confidence that she will do well.

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