While not strictly-speaking a developmental milestone, the point at which a child is mature and responsible enough to be left home alone for the first time is a momentous occasion for both parent and child alike. But despite the pride a parent and child will feel in reaching this important independence milestone, there’s usually also a certain bit of trepidation felt by both parties. How do you determine when your child is ready to stay home unsupervised?
For the most part, the decision should be based on each individual child and family situation. Only two states legally stipulate an age minimum for a child to be able to stay home alone, but their requirements are so far off from each other that they provide little guidance on the topic; Maryland requires a child to be 8 years old while Illinois requires a child to be 14 years old.
So, how do you decide when your child is ready? The Administration for Children & Families recommends considering the following:
Age and Maturity
Is your child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself?
Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?
How long will your child be left home alone at one time? Will it be during the day, evening, or night? Will the child need to fix a meal?
How often will the child be expected to care for him- or herself?
How many children are being left home alone? Children who seem ready to stay home alone may not necessarily be ready to care for younger siblings.
Is your home safe and free of hazards?
How safe is your neighborhood?
Does your family have a safety plan for emergencies? Can your child follow this plan?
Does your child know his or her full name, address, and phone number?
Does your child know where you are and how to contact you at all times?
Does your child know the full names and contact information of other trusted adults, in case of emergency?
If you’re still not sure, have a trial run in which you leave your child alone for a short period of time while you’re somewhere nearby. The comfort of knowing that you can quickly get home should anything go wrong will allow you and your child the opportunity to get used to this new situation without fear, and make you both more comfortable next time around.