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“Mommy, I’m a big girl. You go ahead –I can stay home alone!”

I had to giggle as my 6-year-old did her best to convince me that she could stay home by herself.  This is the same little girl who has to be reminded to brush her teeth daily and to wash her hands after going to the bathroom.  Um, no – little mama is obviously not mature enough to stay home alone.  No way, no how!

But I realize in a few short years my baby girl will actually be a preteen, and I’ll be faced with the question “How old is old enough to be left home alone?”

According to the National Child Care Information Center, only a few states have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone.  Most other states leave this important decision to parents based on their child’s maturity.  But the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families does offer some helpful guidelines for parents.

The USDHHS suggests that parents consider these questions when evaluating their child’s ability to be stay home alone safely:

  • Is your child mentally and physically capable of taking care of himself
  • Does your child consistently obey rules and make good decisions
  • Is your child confident about staying home alone?  Or is she fearful?
  • Is your neighborhood safe enough to leave your child home alone?

It’s also recommended that children who will be left home alone create an emergency plan with their parents BEFORE they are ever left alone.

Once you make the decision that your child is ready to be left home alone, these steps are suggested:

  • Act it out.  Role play various scenarios with your child.  It will make your child feel prepared, and will put your mind at ease.
  • Lay down the law.  Make sure your child knows what’s allowed to happen in the home when you’re not there.  Spell it out carefully in black and white.  If you’ve already set rules, your child will have to make fewer important decisions alone.
  • Try it out.  Make sure that your first few trips away from your child are quick. Leave your child alone while you are at the neighborhood grocery for 20-30 minutes a few times, before being gone for several hours.
  • Don’t go crazy.  Even when you’re child seems to have the hang of it, don’t overdo it.  Even the most mature child should not be left home alone constantly.

For more tips, check out this online home alone fact sheet.

Do you leave your children home alone?  How could you tell that they were mature enough?

Words: Yolanda Darville

Yolanda Darville is a mom, writer, and blogger focusing on philanthropy and empowering women.  Learn more about her on her blog


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