How old your child should be to stay home alone is a question many parents agonize over and one that doesn’t have a clear-cut, straight answer. There are only three states that have laws that dictate the legal age including:
- Illinois: Age 14
- Maryland: Age 8
- Oregon: Age 10
Here in Arizona, there is no law dictating the age at which a child is old enough to stay home alone, but that doesn’t mean parents can leave children of any age to fend for themselves. A child’s readiness to stay home alone is dependent on many factors, most of which are very specific to that child. This is why it is difficult to give a single clear-cut answer. The only answer is – it depends on your child.
In order to determine if your child is ready to stay home alone, you need to think about how mature they are, how responsible they are, and how much you trust them to take care of things around the house. The answers to these questions will help you decide. Most experts agree, however, that most children under the age of 10 are generally not emotionally equipped to stay home alone and take care of themselves for long periods of time.
Here are some questions you could ask yourself to determine if your child is ready to stay home alone.
1. Does my child feel ready to stay home alone for a few hours?
One of the first things you should do is talk to your child and find out how they feel about staying home alone. Most will be excited and feel they are completely ready for that kind of responsibility. However, some kids won’t be comfortable with the idea. For these kids, it is probably better to wait until they are older or become more comfortable. It is also important to note that just because they say they are ready it doesn’t mean they are actually ready. This is just a place to start.
2. Is my child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself?
Is your child able to regulate their activities and make good decisions about what to do when they are home alone? Do they know how to make themselves a meal, or what to do if someone comes to the door?
3. Would be child be able to handle an emergency?
Emergencies happen. Do they know how to call 911 or a friend or family member? Do they know what to do in case of fire? What about if the smoke detector goes off?
4. How mature is my child?
Next, think about your child’s maturity level. This is one of the places where maturity matters. You may feel totally comfortable leaving your 13-year-old home but worry about your 15-year-old simply because the13-year-old is more mature. You may also want to look at how responsible your child is in their everyday life. Do they do their homework and chores? Are they good at following directions? Are they calm problem solvers or do they struggle when things go off course? Answering these questions will give you important clues to determining if your child is ready or not.
After you decide that they are okay to stay home alone, here are some tips.
1. Schedule a trial run
If you and your child both feel they are ready to stay home alone, consider doing a trial run or two first. This will give your child the sense of what it will be like to stay home alone and enable you both to see if there are things you need to do differently. Taking a short trip that gets you out of the house for 30-60 minutes but that keeps you close to home is a great way to practice. This also helps you, the parent, learn to let go a little and become confident that your child will be safe when they are home alone.
2. Be prepared
There are some skills that all children who stay home by themselves should have before being alone for any length of time.
- They should know when, how, and who to call for help if they need it including 911 and non-emergency local assistance.
- They need to know their address by heart and major cross street names.
- They need to know how to operate any home security systems in the house and what to do if it goes off.
- They need to know how to lock and unlock doors and windows.
- They need to know what to do if the smoke detector goes off, someone comes to the door, the phone rings, or the power goes out.
- They need to know who they can go to in the neighborhood if they need help.
Remember that being able to stay home alone is a big milestone in a child’s life. While there is no need to rush it, letting them take on this responsibility once they are ready helps build self-confidence and boosts their self-esteem.