Staying home alone for the first time can be scary and overwhelming for some kids. If your child is struggling with this concept, take a step back, talk it through, and consider easing them in slowly. We’ve got some ideas to help you get there.
Not every kid is comfortable with alone time, and some take longer than others to gain confidence in this area. And that’s okay. You want to prevent your child from having a negative experience; otherwise, it’ll make it much harder the next time you try to leave them home alone. But don’t worry, your kid will get there eventually, with enough patience, preparation, and communication.
Check State Laws
First, read up on state laws to make sure your child is legally old enough to be left home alone. Some states have required ages, others have “recommended ages,” and some don’t comment on this at all.
The range is typically from 8-14 years old.
After 14, your child should be capable of staying home alone for stretches of time. But remember, each child is different.
Make Sure Your Child Is Ready
Your child should have the maturity and focus to follow directions, handle emergencies, avoid opening the door, and be able to call for help (either to you, a neighbor, or 911). If you don’t have faith your child can do all of these things, then wait. It isn’t about their actual age, but their actual abilities and comfort level.
If you believe your child can handle being home alone, but she says she’s scared, talk through all the scenarios. It’s okay to leave your kid home alone if she’s a bit nervous, but don’t do it if she’s completely terrified.
Try 30 Minutes of Separation
Start with a small trip away, maybe going to a nearby grocery store. Make sure your child has access to a phone, that all the doors are locked, and set him up with a TV show or a movie. 30 minutes can fly by pretty fast when watching a fun TV show.
If he has a cellphone, you can text him what you’re doing.
- “I just arrived at the grocery store.”
- “I’m picking out avocados now.”
- “Should I buy ice cream?”
- “I’m on my way back home.”
Keeping constant contact like this will reassure him that he isn’t completely alone. And maybe next time he’ll say, “I’m fine, you don’t need to text me constantly.”
Suggest a Schedule for Longer Absences
As you move your way into longer periods of separation, say a couple of hours, try writing down a schedule for your child. You can give her suggested activities with timeframes, just to help keep her on track.
- Read for 30 minutes
- Watch TV for 30 minutes
- Clean your room for 30 minutes
- Enjoy an ice cream treat
Breaking the time into blocks makes it a lot more manageable. Then make sure to check in by phone call, text, or video chat every 30 minutes, just to see how she’s doing. And it’s fine if she mixes the plan up. Just make sure she doesn’t spend the whole time eating ice cream!
In general, you don’t want to leave your kids unattended overnight until they’re around 16-17. Obviously you need to completely trust your teen, making sure he isn’t going to host a wild party or drive your car without permission.
Help them by planning meals in advance, such as meals they can easily microwave or eat cold (like a macaroni salad).
Schedule a family friend, neighbor, or relative to stop by, just to hang out for a bit. This can help break up the hours if your teen is feeling lonely. At the minimum, you should tell neighbors you’re close to you’ll be out of town and ask them to keep an extra eye on things. Most people will be happy to oblige and peek in now and then to make sure nothing’s out of sorts.
If she wants a friend to stay over, make sure you trust that teen, and inform the parents that the teens will be home alone. No-parent sleepovers are probably best reserved for older kids who have already proven they can handle being alone overnight.
And lastly, make sure she keeps her phone nearby all night (for most teens, this shouldn’t be a problem!). That way if something happens, like if she hears a noise outside, she can easily find her phone to call for help.
Talk and Assess
Make sure you talk through this process with your child, going over all the responsibilities and rules of what being home alone entails.
Most importantly, make sure to connect when you come home. Don’t just throw the groceries down, ask how it went, and move on with your day. Instead, sit down with your child, look them in the eyes, and ask them detailed questions, such as “What did you like most about being home alone?” or “What parts scared you?” This will help you see how they’re really handling it, and whether you can extend the time in the future.
Being left home alone can be hard for some kids, even teens. Don’t push your child into this too quickly. Instead, take the time to ease them in slowly, checking in along the way.
Over time, your child will hopefully learn to love this responsibility, making them feel more grown-up and independent in the world.