How to Know if Your Child is Ready to Stay Home Alone

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There comes a time in every parent’s life when it’s necessary to admit that your child is ready to stay at home alone for short periods of time. The idea of leaving your child to his own devices may be terrifying, but it’s a necessary step along the path to an independent adulthood and is likely to become a source of tension between you and your child when he feels that he’s just too old for a babysitter. Figuring out when your child is ready to make that leap isn’t always a simple task, though. If you’re faced with the looming prospect of leaving your child at home unattended, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before making your final decision

Learn the Laws in Your Area

Laws governing when a child is allowed to look after himself vary from state to state, and may be a bit more complicated than you realize. In some areas, your child may be legally allowed to stay home alone for a specified amount of time only if he’s not in charge of caring for any younger children. In others, he may still be too young to stay home without running the risk of serious legal issues. While the maturity level and developmental age of your child are very important pieces of this particular puzzle, they never trump the legal requirements of your state or city.

Objectively Evaluate Your Child’s Level of Responsibility

Before your child stays home alone, he needs to demonstrate to you that he’s responsible enough to be trusted with the task. Even if he’s far beyond the legal minimum age to stay home unsupervised in your area, you may want to think twice before you leave an unruly child who isn’t capable of managing even basic tasks for himself alone. Can your child prepare a meal or snack for himself safely? Can he be trusted to complete his homework and adhere to house rules while there’s no one there to make sure that he behaves? There are a series of questions you should ask yourself about your child’s maturity and responsibility level before you decide to let him stay home alone for the first time.

Consider Your Child’s Ability to Manage an Emergency

Whether you want to think about it or not, there’s a chance that your child will be faced with an unforeseen situation while you’re not there to manage it for him. He may even be thrust into an emergency situation, so it’s absolutely imperative that he has the capability to handle basic emergency preparedness. Kids who don’t deal well with stress or are very dependent upon an adult to manage everyday life may not be ideal candidates for staying home alone.

Keep the Duration of His Stay in Mind

When you’re attempting to determine whether or not your child is prepared to handle staying home without adult supervision, it’s important to take the expected duration of his stay into consideration. A child who’s more than capable of handling a few hours after school as a latchkey kid may not be prepared for spending an entire day and evening alone on a snow day or during summer vacation. The longer your child is left alone, the higher his chances of encountering a situation he’s not prepared for. Make sure that you give careful thought to the amount of time he’ll be spending on his own, because it can make quite a difference in terms of his readiness.

Make a Trial Run or Two

If you’re considering a continuing arrangement in which your child will be left unattended for a specified amount of time each day, it’s wise to make a few trial runs before the big decision is made. Consider leaving your child behind while you make a quick trip to the grocery store or down the street to run an errand. As long as you’re easily reached and can return home at a moment’s notice to manage unforeseen events, you can give your child a taste of independence while observing his ability to deal with the added responsibility without placing him in real danger.

At the end of the day, no one knows as well as you do whether or not your child is prepared to take care of himself for a few hours. Making sure that you’re in compliance with all local laws and that you follow your own instincts is important, especially if you feel that you’re being pressured into leaving your child alone, but aren’t quite convinced that he’s up to the challenge yet.

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