How to know when your kids are ready to stay home alone

Aug 24

I recently shared in my Instagram stories how Justin and I are thrilled to be at the point in our lives where our children are old enough to stay home alone for short periods of time. While most of the people who responded were supportive and excited for when that’s an option for them, we did get a little backlash (a lot haha) Who knew this was such a hot button topic?

I thought I would share a little more detail on how we have made this work for our family, and if it’s something you feel comfortable with, awesome! If not, I totally respect that too! You have to do what feels right for your own family. 

I am a fairly anxious parent and have put off leaving my kids for any amount of time for years. I just recently started feeling comfortable doing so. I recognize it’s a huge privilege to be able to pay a sitter or call a family member to watch kids when you need help, and so many families don’t have that option. Since a lot of children start caring for themselves when they are young, out of curiosity I asked my sister, who works for Child Protective Services, how you know when a kid is safe to take care of themselves. She assured me that it is completely fine to leave our older kids in charge of themselves, as well as watch their younger siblings. She also told me about the laws and certain benchmarks that will tell you if they’re ready to be home unsupervised. I found this information to be extremely helpful and thought that it could help others too! 

Justin and I have enjoyed giving our kids a chance to practice responsibility within the family more, and they love when we give them time at home to take care of things while we are gone. For our family, it’s usually for an hour or less. As they get older I am sure we will feel more comfortable with longer amounts of time.

Prior to the first time, we sat down with our older two boys to run it by them. We offered extra allowance in exchange for supervising the younger two kiddos, but they countered with extra screen time instead. Done and done! See what your kids feel comfortable with. 

Our boys have proven their responsibility, but we made sure they knew what to do in case of emergencies, who to contact if they need help, and how to handle sibling conflict. They have phones and Amazon Echos at home that they can contact us with if there are any issues. We also have Vivint security cameras so we can drop in anytime and see how they’re doing! We honestly had no hesitations moving forward with it, and so far it has been a very successful step for our family. 

I received several messages from people who had negative experiences with babysitting their siblings when they were younger. Some felt they were too young to be given that responsibility; Some felt that their parents took advantage of this new-found freedom and overused them as caretakers; Some felt their childhood was robbed and that they were forced to grow up too fast. To those individuals, I am so sorry! There clearly is a fine-line between what is perfectly acceptable and what is inappropriate in regards to this practice. I do not condone any form of neglect, abuse, or exhaustion of children. This should never be the case. I do, however, believe in the family unit working together, fulfilling roles appropriately, and allowing growth in independence. 

Below is the list of questions my sister who works for Child Protective Services provided to ask/discuss with your child(ren). This assessment will inform you on their level of independence and ability to safely care for themselves and/or other siblings:

-What would you do if someone you don’t know came to the door?

-What would you do if someone broke a bone or was bleeding?

-What food can you eat if you’re hungry?

-What would you do if there was a fire?

-What would you do if you smelled gasoline?

-Do you have access to a phone? How do you use it?

-Is there a neighbor you can go to in case of an emergency?

-Do you know how to lock and unlock the doors?

-Do you feel safe being home without supervision?

-Is there anything that makes you feel unsafe?

The best additional resource that I found is this Children’s Bureau Welfare Factsheet. It covers everything you need to know about leaving your child home alone. 

Some key points I took away are:

  1. Only three states currently have age minimum requirement laws: Illinois, 14 years old; Maryland, 8 years old; and Oregon, 10 years old. Which means all other states rely on parent/guardian discretion. 
  2. There are some important base-line questions you should ask YOURSELF based on observation before considering leaving your child alone–ƒ Is your child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself? ƒ Does your child obey rules and make good decisions? ƒ How does your child respond to unfamiliar or stressful situations? ƒ Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?
  3. For children with developmental or intellectual disabilities who are not able to stay home alone, parents may be able to arrange supervised options that support independence while maintaining safety and well-being.
  4. This decision should be based on personal readiness, and the timeline will look different for every family. 

I urge you to be in tune with your family and the specific needs of its members. I hope this is both informative and encouraging to you as you prepare for, or refine this system in your own home. Here’s to raising the next generation of self-sufficient, confident adults!

XO, ASHLEY

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  1. Heather Stephenson says:

    Thank you, such a wonderful resource! My son is 9 and we’re feeling ready for him to start being more independent, so this really helps me feel like I can prepare all of us for it. I started babysitting at 11 (I was very responsible and mature), I loved it, and I think you are 💯 fine in your plan. Anyone who follows you should recognize what a good mom you are, and what an anxious person you are lol (I hope that you know I mean this lovingly), so obviously you would be responsible in this situation.

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