When is it okay to leave the kids home alone?

April 2, 2012 | By | Comments (18)

Even as I write the headline for this blog post, I feel a bit of trepidation about opening what could be a controversial can of worms. But I ask the question not in an attempt to inflame or infuriate, but because I am truly curious about what choices other families are making when it comes to leaving their children home alone.

With an almost 10 year old in our household, the question of letting him stay home alone for short periods of time has come up  at home, as well as with our peers. And if I thought l was going to find an easy answer through my favorite resource (Google), I was wrong.

My first question, beyond what I may think is right for my children, was whether there were any laws here in Massachusetts related to how young is too young. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, only Illinois and Maryland have laws regarding a specific age for leaving a child at home.

Rather than depending on a specific age, the Department through their Child Welfare Information Gateway suggests making a decision based on factors such as your child’s emotional maturity and their ability to master safety-related tasks.

If you are thinking about leaving your child at home, the Gateway recommends taking steps to get them ready, including:

  • Give it a try – Leave kids at home for a short time, staying close to home, and see how they do.
  • Make rules – Make a list of things the kids can (and can’t ) do while you are away. (In our house it’s homework, yes; video games, no).
  • Role play – Review situations which may arise and find out how your children may respond.

As I write this, I’m sure that Free-Range Kids author and advocate Lenore Skenazy would tell me that I’m over thinking it. And she would be totally right. Because we’ve already left our son home alone for short periods and know he can handle it. Because I’ve seen how he and my 6 year old daughter handle themselves when things don’t go as planned. And I know we have neighbors who keep their eyes out for anything “strange” without me even asking.

(Honestly, I think I might be more worried about the judgement from other parents than I am about leaving our son home for 20 minutes.)

When do you think it’s okay to leave the kids home alone?