Leaving Your Kids Home Alone: What Age Is the Right Age?

With all the hoopla about parents being arrested for dropping their kids off at parks to fend for themselves, parents may be wondering at what age it's safe to leave kids alone in other circumstances -- for instance, at home. Moms may be wondering this because sooner or later they face a scenario where they need to just run out and grab a gallon of milk, and babysitters won't pop by for a half hour, and Junior's in the middle of his math homework. Yet moms may be understandably worried whether their kids are old enough to not open the door to strangers, call if any problems arise, and all in all responsibly handle whatever might come their way.


For starters, let's consider the legal logistics. "Some states have legal restrictions on how old a child must be before being left alone in your house, so parents should be sure to look into the regulations in their home state," says Megan Devine, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at EmpoweringParents.com. To check your state's guidelines, you can contact your state's Child Protective Services (CPS) at 800-422-4453 or at ChildWelfare.gov

Typically the legal cutoff for letting kids stay home solo will be around age 12 -- the minimum age that the National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends for leaving kids at home alone. That's also the minimum age that most child experts say a child is psychologically ready for this responsibility. That said, "Because children mature at different rates, you should not base your decision on age alone," says Frank Sileo, PhD, a licensed psychologist at DrFrankSileo.com. Parents should also ask themselves: Does my child know how and when to call 911 and know what to say? Can he state his phone number and address? Does your child follow basic safety rules, and can he tell you where he would go for help if he needed it? If so he may be ready. 

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From there, you should establish sound ground rules, such as no unlocking the door or inviting friends over under any circumstances. Post important numbers your child should know in a prominent place, including your cell, phone numbers of family and trusted neighbors, as well as 911. "It's also a good idea to role-play with your child what to do in an emergency," says Sileo. Once these safety measures are put in place, try a short trial run. "Leave your child alone for 15 to 20 minutes in the beginning," Sileo suggests. "Extend that time when you see your child can handle it. When we start in smaller steps, we help build confidence in our children and we feel more confident leaving them home alone for longer periods."

At what age would you leave your kids home alone?


Image © Kaori Ando/Corbis

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