What to Consider Before Leaving a Child Home Alone

At some point, many parents will begin thinking about whether their child is ready to stay home alone without supervision. Children often crave more independence as they grow older. However, letting a child stay home alone is a huge responsibility that parents need to thoughtfully consider before doing so. Whether it's for an hour after school or an entire afternoon, here are some things for parents to consider before leaving a child home alone.

Your Child's Age and Maturity

Children of different ages may be able to handle varying amounts of time alone. Very young children shouldn't be left without supervision, but an older child may be able to spend short periods of time on their own. Your child's level of maturity should also be considered. For instance, some 12-year olds may be able to handle making them self an after-school snack and do their homework at home alone for an hour, while other children that age may not be ready for that. Putting enough trust in your child to let them stay home alone for a short period of time can be an excellent lesson in responsibility, but it should only be considered if the conditions are right. Think about your child and their needs before deciding to leave them home alone. 

Also, you may want to check the laws in your state. A few states do have laws in place for how old your child must be before being left home alone, while several states have guidelines for parents to determine whether their child is old enough to stay home alone. 

Safety Factors

Several points surrounding your child's overall safety should be considered before they are left home alone. What time of day will they be alone? What is your neighborhood like? Do you have trusted neighbors that your child can call or walk to if they need something? Is your home safe enough for a child to be there alone? Can your child easily make themselves something to eat or use simple appliances in your home without risk? Does your child know what to do when an unknown number calls your house phone or when someone knocks on the door? Are they able to lock and unlock windows and doors in your home? Does your child know who to call in an emergency? If a minor emergency occurs while you are out like a small cut on their finger, do they know how to handle it? Can your child contact you or their other parent at any time when they are home alone? 

Your Parenting Plan

When raising children from separate households, there may be specifics in your parenting plan about how to handle times where you or your co-parent may not be able to be there to watch your child. Your plan may state that during your parenting time, your co-parent is to be asked first if they're able to watch your child when something comes up before you call a babysitter or leave your child home alone. It's also possible that your plan could state that your child should not be left home alone for any period of time. Every family is unique, and not every parenting plan is the same. Carefully review your parenting plan, and speak to your attorney if you have any questions or concerns about whether or not your parenting plan would allow for your child to be home alone. In any case, consider having a conversation with your co-parent about if and when you will begin allowing your child to stay home alone. If you make important decisions for your child together, this will be an important topic for you to discuss. 

Preparing Your Child

If you have decided that now is the time to begin allowing your child to stay home alone, get them ready by teaching them what they need to know about being home alone. Help them to memorize some important information like your address, your phone number, and emergency contact numbers. Discuss what to do if someone comes to the door or an unknown number calls, show them how to lock and unlock doors and windows, and talk about what is appropriate to do while they are home alone. Speak to a close neighbor to let them know that your child will be home alone. Also, let your co-parent know when your child will be home alone and for how long. The first time you leave your child home alone, make sure that it's only for a very short period of time. Try testing it waters to see how they do when you're gone for 30 minutes, one hour, and so on. Let your child know that you and their other parent are always reachable. Call your child to check in every once in a while, and do your best to answer right away if they call or text you. 

Deciding to leave your child home alone for any period of time is a big decision to make as a parent. Doing so can teach your child a lot about independence and responsibility, but you should only leave them home alone if you know they are ready for it. These are only some important points to consider, and there may be even more areas that you need to think about that directly concern your family. Consider all of these factors and discuss this topic with your co-parent before making the decision to let your child stay home alone.