One of the most difficult choices to make as a parent is deciding when to leave your child home alone for the first time, and for how long. Fortunately, there are some guidelines to help make this decision a little easier. Only some states have specific laws that address this issue and the state laws vary so widely they are of little help to parents.
If you don’t live in Maryland (child must be at least 8), Oregon (child must be at least 10) or Illinois (child must be at least 14), you have to decide when you feel that your child is mature enough to handle being left alone in the home for any amount of time.
Tips for Leaving your Kids Home Alone
Consider your own child when thinking about these recommendations and adjust accordingly. Legal experts recommend the following guidelines for leaving children unaccompanied:
- Under 7 should not be unaccompanied at all. This includes in the car, playing on the playground or the backyard. This seems pretty strict to me, but use your instincts to gauge your own kids.
- Ages 8-11 can safely be left alone for up to 1.5 hours, but only during the daytime hours when they can easily access help from neighbors if needed. They are also less likely get scared during daylight hours.
- 12-15 can be left alone for up to 3 hours. Consider whether your child is really ready to babysit or take on additional responsibilities. Avoid leaving kids alone overnight until age 15 or 16.
My daughter is 8 and begs to be left alone. I’m still a little hesitant to leave her, but have on occasion left her for very short trips. A few ways to make this transition a little easier:
Try a short test. Leave your child at home alone for 20 to 30 minutes. You don’t have to go far. The short limit is just enough time to let them enjoy being alone without the risk of staying away for two long.
Set rules. If I leave my daughter, she cannot answer the door at all. She has to stay in the house and do homework, watch a movie or play games. I try to feed her a snack beforehand or leave out food so she isn’t tempted to try and cook when I’m not home.
Phone: Most people don’t have land lines anymore. If you do not have a land line you should have another phone you can leave with your child. Have a list of numbers programmed into the phone so you child can reach an adult quickly if needed.
Spy: My mom raised us alone so she had to work a lot and we were on our own. We lived in a good neighborhood and my mom knew we were safe because our neighbors always watched out for us. Take advantage of that if you have it!