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When To Leave Your Kids Home Alone

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Acceptable age to Leave Your Child Home Alone

I was interviewed for an article that ran in the Globe and Mail on Saturday March 11, 2006 (available online but may require subscription). The interviewer asks the top March Break question: How old do your children have to be in order for you to leave them home alone? If you are a working parent, this is a critical question.

I think the topic is important enough that I wanted a fully discussion.

The child’s age is not as important as the child’s ability to be home alone. There are some savvy 8 year olds that get their kid brothers up, out of bed, fed, dressed and take them by bus to school. I have meet some 14 year olds that I wouldn’t trust to be alone for a moment. Age is not the determining factor. You can’t train them in a day to be home alone (although I do recommend you check out the courses offered called “Home Alone”) It is not a one shot lesson, it is the culmination or the end product of years of training, all the little baby steps leading to more and more ability and independence that is our parenting journey!

Think of what is required:

Confidence
The child needs to have confidence in themselves when they are left alone. They need to believe “I can manage this!”

Developing confidence started the first time you let them cry themselves to sleep, and you had faith they could manage that situation. Confidence you helped them to grow in themselves because you “took time for training” and then “you never did what a child could do for himself” (two big Adlerian concepts).

Problem Solving
Being home alone means potentially having to deal with a crisis on your own. If, say, a flood were to happen, can your child think calmly and cooly? I don’t mean they have to know how to fix a broken water line to be able to stay home alone (or else I wouldn’t be able to either!) but are they solid thinkers? Are they wise enough to see that the situation needs immediate attention and that they should call you. If they are told you are in a meeting do they have the smarts to ask for your meeting to be interrupted, to explain that it is an emergency, rather than leaving a message.

Problem solving training happens when you have family meetings as part of your family life, and when you look at all situations from a problem solving state of mind instead of through a disciplinary frame.

Respect the Rules
I espouse the use of democratic methods of guiding the child. One of the benefits of this style will payoff when you leave your child home alone. You see the child raised in a democratic home is able to “behave” or respect the rules even when you, the authority figure is away. Children raised in autocratic households tend to only behave when the ruler is around ruling the roost. When mom and dad are gone, its anyone’s guess what rules, limits and boundaries they will voluntarily respect.

Children raised using Adlerian parenting principles will be more mature and capable of handling life. That can be a bit scary when you hit the teen years. But – these are real community leaders and if we continue to build our relationships and stay close to our children, even when they want to dye their hair purple, we’ll enjoy the incredible humans they are becoming.

If you have any “home alone” stories or advice, please post them in the comment area below for others who may benefit from your parenting wisdom.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

3 Responses to “When To Leave Your Kids Home Alone”

  1. Karen

    I think it is important for parents to know that there is no “legal” age for a child to be left home alone. Parents are legally repsonsible for their children until they are 16 years old. Many think that because their child is 12 years old that they can legally stay home alone, not true.
    Alyson’s article does state that it is important that your child knows how to make decisions in a time of need and that age alone is not a determining factor. Each child is unique and being left home alone at a certain age is not a one size fits all.

    Reply
  2. MaileySmith

    I started leaving my son home alone for about an hour when he was 12 years old, and now he is 13 years old. I might consider him being left home alone again. I am actually not that worried anymore with his safety having him left at home alone since I read this service written by a mom blogger. She was concerned also on how she can better protect her kids. Check out her blog http://www.tsue-thatswhatshesaid.com/2011/09/keeping-your-child-safe-supporting.html

    Reply
  3. Erica Gomez

    I’m actually interested in knowing if the same rules apply for babysitting. My daughter, who is eleven and a half, just completed her babysitting course. We have younger children. Could she legally babysit as long as we believe she is capable and responsible enough? Or is there a minimum age requirement? Google was of little assistance. 😉

    Reply

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