Dual-income families are commonplace today. If you have children, you’ll eventually have to decide when they’re old enough to stay home by themselves. I get this question from parents a lot and, unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Some states have laws disallowing children under certain ages to stay at home unsupervised. While Texas does not have a restriction on how early you can start leaving your child home alone, most child-safety groups don’t recommend leaving your children home when they’re younger than 12. Every kid is different, so there is no magic age they can reach before they’re old enough to shoulder the responsibility, but there are some things to take into consideration when you’re making the decision.
How Mature Is Your Child?
This is going to be different for everyone. When thinking about this question, try to recall how well your child does with everyday necessities like chores and homework. How does your child react to sudden changes of plans when you’re around – do they remain calm or do they panic? Do they consistently tell you the truth? If they have problems or concerns, do they come to you with them or do you find out about them later? Has he or she confidently told you that they’re ready to stay home by themselves? Do you know that they understand the importance of safety? If you’re confident in all of these answers, think about their decision-making skills.
What’s Your Child’s Judgment Like?
This question has more to do with how your kiddo handles unexpected situations. Consider how they handle themselves in situations that don’t even pertain to staying home by themselves. Kids are constantly learning boundaries. No one – adults included – is exempt from having lapses in judgment, but in evaluating your child’s readiness to be home alone, think about recent judgment calls your child has had to make. Do they consistently follow your rules? How are their problem-solving skills? Are you confident they will make safe choices even at the risk of seeming rude or “uncool” to other kids or to adults?
Outside Factors Should Also Play a Role
Staying home alone doesn’t concern just your child – it depends on factors that are beyond their control as well. Consider these questions:
- Do you live in a safe neighborhood?
- Does your child know basic first aid?
- What kind of street do you live on – is it a busy street with traffic or a quiet street?
- Does your child know your neighbors?
- Can they lock and unlock doors and windows?
Practice and Make a Plan
If you’ve determined your child is old enough to watch out for themselves for a few hours each day, practice, talk about potential situations and make a plan. Try leaving them at home at first for short periods of time while you’re visiting a neighbor. Give them a little bit of a safety net to assure that they’re comfortable with the process. Talk about potential situations that may come up and discuss how to handle them. For example:
- How and when to call 9-1-1 and what information to give the dispatcher.
- What to do if there’s a small fire in the kitchen.
- How to respond if there is severe weather.
- What to do if a stranger comes to the door.
- How to react to a power outage.
Talk to your child. Consider their strengths and weaknesses and come up with a plan together. You’ll know when you’re both ready for the responsibility.