How Young is Too Young to Let a Child Stay Home Alone

littlegirlThere comes a time in every child’s life when she decries the need for a babysitter or nanny, asserting that she’s more than capable of looking after herself for a few hours. When your child’s need to assert her independence rears its head, it can be difficult to determine whether or not she’s truly ready for such a big responsibility. Before giving your kid the okay to hold down the fort without adult supervision, there are some things you’ll need to consider.

When Local and State Laws Forbid the Arrangement

The age at which a child can legally be left home alone varies from state to state, so it’s important that you make sure that you’re well-informed regarding the restrictions in your area. The laws may also differ depending on the number of children that will be left alone, as an older child may not legally be allowed to look after her younger siblings until she reaches a specified, state-mandated age. Be sure that you thoroughly research the laws in your area so that you don’t unwittingly break any of them. In the event of an emergency, you could even find yourself facing charges if your child is staying home alone before she’s legally considered old enough to do so.

When “Alone” Doesn’t Really Mean “Alone”

There’s spending time at home alone, and then there’s spending time at home with other children and no adult supervision. Even if your child has legally reached an acceptable age in your state, you’ll need to make sure that she understands and is mature enough to be trusted with rules about having guests. When a group of kids gather and there’s no adult to look after them, things can very quickly spiral out of control. If you even slightly suspect that your child will be inviting friends or neighborhood playmates over while you’re out, she may still be too young and immature to be trusted.

When She Can’t Feed Herself Safely

The last thing you want is for an adventurous child to become a peckish one while you’re out of your home. Even if she knows that she’s supposed to stick to using the microwave and sink, a youngster that’s eager to prove her mettle while exploring new things may very well attempt to cook a large meal on the stove, which could easily end in disaster. Kids that have no idea how to safely use a stove probably shouldn’t be left alone at all, but especially not those that might be tempted to give it a whirl while no one is there to monitor the situation.

When You Can’t Be Easily Reached

No matter how old your child is, you’ll want to think twice before leaving her alone if you’re not going to be easily reachable by phone or text message. Even small situations can feel like major emergencies to a child, so be sure that you’re always available to take her calls or that she knows to call a trusted adult who’s on standby to help her.

When She’s Never Been Alone Before

It’s best to begin acclimating your child to the idea of staying home alone in small doses by allowing her to ease herself into the situation. Start with a short trip to the grocery store, then increase the amount of time she’s left to her own devices gradually. While kids will all mature at their own pace, it’s not typically a wise idea to leave kids under the age of ten alone for more than an hour or two in most cases.

When it’s Dark or Late at Night

Allowing your child to stay home by herself for an hour or two between her return from school and your arrival from work may be an ideal arrangement for everyone involved. That same two hour span that works out fine in the afternoon may be terrifying to a child at night, though. Until your child is well accustomed to looking after herself and shows no signs of anxiety about being left alone, it’s just not a good idea to let her stay home alone at night. Even if she does feel comfortable with the arrangement, it’s best to wait until she’s a teenager to consider late-night alone time.

When You Don’t Feel Comfortable With It

No one knows your child as well as you do, and no one else can determine when she’s old enough to stay home alone as well as you can. It’s natural to feel a bittersweet tug of sadness at the idea of your child growing up or to be a bit nervous the first time she spends an hour or two at home alone, but it’s not wise to leave her alone if you’re not absolutely convinced it’s a good idea. Follow your instincts and the knowledge you have of your child to ensure that she’s emotionally and physically ready to take care of herself for a while in your absence.