How old were you when you started staying home alone?
I asked my husband this question almost two years ago, and his first response was surprise and confusion. Fair, considering it was entirely out of the blue.
The topic came up because it had suddenly occurred to me that one of our kids might be ready to stay home alone. He was very responsible and showing signs he was eager for more independence. We were already allowing him to do things like ride around the neighborhood on his bike alone.
It’s worth noting that laws vary by state, and in Texas there is no minimum age.
My husband and I discussed the idea at length and considered several factors, including the five signs I list below.
1. Shows Good Judgment Even When Adults Are Not Around
A child may show this by navigating difficult situations on his or her own, like caring for a friend or younger sibling who got hurt while playing outside. Other examples may be making the decision to leave a situation where friends are making poor choices, or exhibiting more responsibility in his or her chores.
2. Becomes More Confident and Self-Aware
Staying home alone puts kids in the position to make a lot of decisions, both big and small. Children who understand and have confidence in their capabilities are more likely to be able to handle the freedom of staying home alone — and to ask for help when it’s needed.
3. Self-Entertains Without Screens
Nothing against screen time, but it was important to us that our kids were able to keep themselves busy without devices or parental intervention. This included doing chores on their own, reading, drawing, playing games, etc.
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4. Communicates Well with Others
If something happens while your child is home alone, it’s critical that your kiddo is able to get help from people who aren’t you. Good communication skills means being able to explain a situation to first responders, neighbors, a nearby family member, etc.
5. YOU Are Thinking About It
As parents, it’s easy to get used to the stage our child is in and not realize he or she may have grown out of it. We found that by the time the idea popped into my head, one of our kids was definitely ready to give it a go — and probably had been for a while.
Preparing for Kids to Stay Home Alone
Once we decided one of our boys was ready to take the plunge, we started to prepare him for success. We hooked up a landline phone, so he could make phone calls in an emergency (or for reassurance) and discussed what to do and where to go if he needed help. Most important, we asked him if he felt ready — and he did!
Another important step was laying down ground rules for what kids shouldn’t do while staying at home alone. We tried to keep these minimal and stuck to safety rules, like no using the oven or stove, no playing in the front yard, etc. I remember from my own kid days that drinking a soda and eating in the living room were some of the perks of staying home by myself, provided I cleaned up.
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One of the hardest parts for us was identifying situations where the house would be empty and he could stay home alone. With two parents who work from home and two siblings, it wasn’t always easy to give him the opportunities he needed to practice. We got creative and made it happen, keeping the time periods short initially and building up as we went along.
The Benefits of Kids Staying Home Alone
At this point, both of our oldest children stay home by themselves. We have just started letting their younger brother stay with them occasionally. Siblings add a whole new level of complexity to the situation, but that’s another article for another time.
I will say that it’s been interesting to see how staying home together without adults has strengthened their sibling bonds.
Since entering this stage, all three kids have gained confidence and independence. Our youngest is looking for ways to show he is more responsible and ready to stay by himself, without his brothers, but he’s not quite there yet. It is an important step on the path to growing up, and he’s excited to take it.
From a practicality standpoint, there are so many doors suddenly open to us now that our kids can stay home alone. We can go on (short) day dates on the weekend without adding the cost of a sitter to our budget. Our kids can be dropped off at home by family or friends if we are not there, meaning there is less coordination involved on busy days. After more than a decade of supervision, these small changes feel truly life changing.
The idea of your kids staying home alone may seem crazy to you now. It was brand new territory for us, and we were surprised to find ourselves in the situation. Occasionally, we still forget it’s even an option! But mostly, we have welcomed this new stop on our parenting journey. The view from here looks pretty good.