Here's how to figure out what's right for your family and how to safely leave your children by themselves.

By Jennifer Aldrich
Updated January 06, 2021
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In the '70s and '80s, the term "latchkey child" became popular. The phrase represents Generation X because many of them stayed home alone while their parents worked all day. Although the terminology can have a negative connotation, you shouldn't necessarily be scared to leave your child at home. (When they become a certain age, of course.) Unlike the movies, specifically Home Alone, most children do completely fine when they're left unattended. Sure, you might be missing a few cookies from the jar, but that's no big deal. However, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and you should take it seriously.

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What You Need to Consider Before Leaving Your Child Home Alone

Being at the house alone can help kids mature and learn to handle specific responsibilities. But before you head out with your young one at home, there are some critical things you need to know before leaving your home alone.

The Law

"First and foremost, you need to look up your state and county laws on the matter," says Laura Froyen, Ph.D., a parenting consultant, educator, and host of The Balanced Parent podcast. Laws vary for each state on the exact age when your child can be left home alone. Some states have specific ages, and others let the parent decide. The Washington Post put together an extensive page on resources for each state, but to be absolutely sure, make sure you double-check your own state's laws on the matter.

Their Maturity

No two children are the same, even if they are siblings. You need to think about your child's developmental level and responsibility, Froyen explains. "[Think about] are they risk-takers? Do they think through their actions first? Will they tell you the truth or lie to avoid punishment?" Also, your child needs to understand when they need to call you or 911 for help.

Their comfort level with being home alone should also be considered. "You may think they are ready, but if they don’t feel they are, they aren’t," Froyen notes. "This is something you shouldn’t force on a child before they are ready."

How to Prepare to Leave Your Child Home Alone

"Practice, practice, practice," Froyen says. "Run through scenarios, like what happens when a neighbor comes to the door, versus a delivery person or stranger." You can even try acting out certain situations, which can be a way to gauge if they're ready to be alone. "Even if they seem annoyed by it or think it’s silly, a kid who is mature enough to stay home will be willing to practice these things," Froyen explains.

Go Over Your Expectations

You need to be clear about the rules. Go over what snacks are OK to make, what appliances are safe to use, and what's not. "[Also, outline] where they're allowed to go and who's allowed to come over," Froyen says. And, "If they are going to be using screens while you’re gone, have your parental controls well set and go over the rules (and consequences) before you leave," Froyen adds.

Leave Them With the Necessities

Write down all emergency contacts your kid will need; if they have a phone or tablet, have them save it in there, too. Preparing a snack or a meal that's easy to pop out of the fridge is also nice, Froyen says. And don't forget, "Leaving a little, 'I love you & trust you' note," is a special step.

Comments (1)

Anonymous
July 15, 2018
There is a fantastic new online program that helps kids build confidence and life skills to stay home alone. It teaches things like street smarts, people safety, injury prevention and basic first aid. It's called Home Alone Safety for Kids at www.HomeAloneCourse.com.