When Can I Leave My Kids Home Alone?
You need to run to the store. It's 5 minutes away – and your 10 year old is happily sitting on the couch catching up on episodes of her favorite show, in her pajamas. All you need is a half gallon of milk. If you try to load her up she will whine about not wanting to go, and of course it will take you twice as long once inside the store (not to mention all the things she will ask for). This is when you think, “Should I leave my kids home alone, for just 5 minutes?” “Is it legal to do so?” “Will she be safe?”
When it comes to leaving kids home alone, it is a difficult decision. Firstly, as a parent you have to decide if your child is physically and emotionally ready to do so. The reality is that I have two 15 year olds. One, I would feel fine with leaving home alone. The other, not so much. This just goes to show that each and every child is different, and handles responsibility differently. Before you take off to the store – take an honest assessment of your child's maturity level and make a decision based on that.
The second consideration of course is legality. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, “only Illinois and Maryland currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone.” If you want more information you can always contact your local CPS office, so you can be sure you are following your state's guidelines -and won't end up on the news for neglectful supervision charges.
The National SAFEKIDS Campaign, as a general rule of thumb suggests that no parent leave a child under the age of 12 home alone. They further suggest that at age 12 a 2 hour time limit should be the maximum.
It is also important to make sure that your child is prepared before just leaving them home alone. Set ground rules. For instance, forbid use of the stove, or make it mandatory that they call you before cooking. Remind them to keep the doors locked and not to answer the door to strangers. Make sure they know how to dial 911, and make sure that there is a person they can contact who is close proximity should an emergency arise. Stress that they should not be playing out in the yard unattended and that they need to stay in the house when you aren't there. When you have gone over the rules, go over them again. And again. Even have them written down and placed in a highly visible place so your child will be prepared. Then, test them. Leave them for 45 minutes, than an hour, than 2. Pop in unexpectedly to make sure that they are doing what they are supposed to and following the rules.
When you have gone over the rules, go over them again. And again. Even have them written down and placed in a highly visible place so your child will be prepared.
It's also a good idea to go over situations that may or may not arise, simply to see what your child may do. This isn't meant to scare your child, but more to be used a barometer for deciding whether or not your child is ready to be left home alone.
It's also a good idea to make sure that your children have chores and structure when you are not there to keep them busy. Give them a chore list, or require that they have their homework done. Giving them structure and setting expectations from the get-go gives them less time to goof off and get into trouble while you are gone.
If you do leave your kids home alone, then check in with them often. Additionally, before putting them in charge of younger siblings, check laws in your state – and make sure that your older children can handle the responsibility of caring for themselves before adding siblings to the list. Just remember that in a millisecond, bad things can happen in the home – from a kitchen fire to an injury. Too much responsibility on your children can be overwhelming and rob them of the joys of their childhood.
How old do you think a child should be to be left home alone? When were you allowed to stay home alone?