How Young Is Too Young To Leave Your Child At Home Alone?

September 10, 2014  |  


As we watched time and time again this past summer, you can get into some serious legal trouble for leaving your child in a hot car unattended. However, the consequences often aren’t as bad for leaving your young child at home alone. Would you try it? New York City resident Lizzie Heiselt has and finds the experience to be one that helps build independence for her 7-year-old son.

Just a few weeks ago, the mother of three wrote an article for ABC News about her budding practice.

He is a homebody, as I was when I was his age. This past week, he asked if we could please plan a day of summer vacation to just stay home and not run any errands. In fact, he’s been asking me if I can let him stay by himself while I do little things around the neighborhood (laundry pick-up, library book return) for over a year now and I’ve been hard-pressed to find a reason why he can’t.”

But does his homebody characteristics and desire to stay at home alone sometimes justify believing that he’s old enough to do so? The rest of the article explains her initial concern and careful consideration in making the final decision to give him the chance to. Eventually she does, but with serious caution. She teaches him how to take care of himself and make smart decisions when it comes to answering the door and responding to emergencies.

Leaving a child at home is certainly not an easy decision to make, and although Heiselt admits to only allowing her son to do this for 45 minutes at the most, it still proves to be a nerve-racking experience for her. Things were much different for Houston mom, Carol Nelson. She was recently imprisoned and charged with endangerment and abandonment for leaving her three children at home alone. Unlike Heiselt, the decision was not one of self-exploration and independence for her kids, but instead, it was one of survival. We don’t know much about Nelson or her relationship with her children. We don’t know if she prepped them on what to do if someone knocks on the door, how to escape with an emergency plan or even how to dial a relative if they’re in need. What we do know, according to reports, is that Nelson is a single mother not receiving help from the father of her kids. She was evicted from her home and was working multiple jobs, so her three children were found in the apartment she was supposed to be out of while she was at work, something her neighbors claimed isn’t common for her. Nelson’s oldest child is 10 and her youngest is about 7 months. She has one more child who is 8, a year older than Heiselt’s son, but it’s assumed that the 10-year-old took full responsibility for his/her siblings. Heiselt has three children as well, and although she doesn’t leave her other two children in her 7-year-old’s care, she does admit to trying it at least once. “I decided to see how my son would do supervising his almost 2-year-old sister for three minutes in our apartment while I took my 4-year-old down the stairs and back up” she shares in her piece.

When it comes to Heiselt and Nelson, we can see that they are moms who trust their children enough to leave them alone, though their reasons for doing so are totally different. One does it because she has a choice, another because she doesn’t. It’s a troubling and tricky situation.

While no one knows what they would do if they didn’t have many options in Nelson’s case, if you were in Heiselt’s position, would you leave your child home alone? If not left for an obscene amount of time in the home alone, is something like this ok? And at what age do you feel it’s appropriate to start leaving children at home alone?

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