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

A picture of a young girl looking out the window
Staying home alone may make your child feel like a grown up but you've got to make sure she's ready first. Photo © David Young-Wolff / Getty Images

Staying home alone is a major milestone for both kids and their parents. Some states don't have a minimum age that you can legally leave your child home alone. The decision is left up to parents. So how do you know if your child is ready to stay home alone?

Know Your Area's Guidelines

Don't just think you know what the laws are regarding your child's minimum age before she can stay home alone. Make sure you verify it by calling your state offices.

Check your state's website too for secondary confirmation.

You don't want your quick solo run to the grocery store to turn into a legal nightmare for you because you unknowingly broke the law. Know the law before even considering leaving your child home alone.

Use Laws as Guidelines

Regardless of the laws in your state, use them as guidelines. Follow the law, of course, but if your state doesn't have a set age for your child to stay home alone, that doesn't mean your five year old should have the rule of the house while you go shopping.

And for states that do have minimum age requirements, that doesn't mean your child is ready to stay home alone just because she hits the state's required age. Use laws as guidelines but know that many children are not ready to stay home alone just because the law states their age legally allows them to do so.

Make Sure Your Child is Emotionally Ready

Staying home alone sounds very exciting to some children.

Then they're left alone and the four walls with only them inside become a very scary place.

Make sure your child is emotionally ready to stay home alone. Can she emotionally handle the isolation of being the only one in the house? If she's too young, being alone can terrify her.

Ask Yourself if Your Child is Physically Ready

Does your child know how to dial 911?

Can she follow the family's fire safety plan if she needs to evacuate the house? Is she prepared for a life or death emergency?

Ask yourself if your child is physically ready to stay home alone before driving off without her. She may insist she's ready but that may all change when she sees your car backing out of the driveway and she suddenly realizes she's all alone in the house.

Make Sure You're Ready

You're part of this equation too. And while the idea of being able to run some errands alone may be appealing, the reality of "what if?" questions will soon make you wonder if you should ever let her stay home alone.

Make sure you're ready for your child to stay home alone. Don't give in just because it's what she wants. You don't want to spend all of your time out of the house, speed dialing your child every 5 minutes to make sure she's okay.

While you can't possibly be ready for every situation, you can prepare you and your child for that big day when she starts staying home alone. Here's how:

Devise a Plan

Don't leave your child home alone without devising a plan first. Your child should know what to do if someone comes to the door and what to do in case of emergency. Also be clear about what's allowed and what's off limits too.

You don't want to come home to find out your child prepared mac and cheese on the stove and invited four of her closest friends over too. Make your rules known, even putting them in writing.

Have a Neighbor Check In

You want to trust that all will go well when you leave your child home alone. But there's nothing wrong with having a neighbor you trust check in. It's even a smart move to make.

Give your neighbor plenty of notice so she can be sure to check in on your child at a set time while you're gone. Let your child know the neighbor will be checking in too. As an added layer of security, let your neighbor know your child won't be answering the door but will come to the window and wave. That way, your neighbor can see your child is okay and talk to her without encouraging your child to open the door.

Be sure your neighbor has your phone number so she can call you in case of an emergency.

Start with Quick Trial Runs

Your To-Do list is filled with errands to run all over town. This may take all day.

It's tempting to try to sneak in one more errand real quick just to get it done. But it's better to start with quick trial runs as your child gets used to being home alone. At first, take a quick 20-minute drive to the dry cleaners and come right back home. You can increase the time with every errand you need to run so you're not leaving your child home alone for two hours the first time you head out.

Be Willing to Come Home at Any Time

You receive a call from your child. It may be broad daylight but she's suddenly scared of being home alone.

Being home alone is a big deal. She may have been fine with it the first 10 times but for some unexplainable reason now she's crying and wants you to come home. Be willing to drop what you're doing to come home at any time. She will be ready to be home alone again some day but she needs the reassurance that you'll be there should she change her mind.

Set Check-In Times

Establish check-in times with your child. With today's technology, it's easier than ever to stay in touch with your kids.

The frequency of check-in times is completely up to you. Some parents want check-ins every 30 minutes. Others may stretch it out to every hour or more. Ask her to call, text or even send a picture to let you know she's all right. You set your own rules and make sure she follows them to give both of you peace of mind that you're a few pushes of a button away.

Use High-Tech Baby Monitors

You may not want to feel like a spy but today's world makes it necessary to keep closer tabs on your children. High-tech baby monitors allow you to pop into your home without being anywhere near it.

Look for baby monitors that allow you to connect to your home remotely using apps. You can even ask your child to be in place at a certain time so you can see her standing safely in your living room.

Wait to Leave Younger Siblings at Home Too

Staying home alone is a major life moment for a child. The transition to being all by herself is exciting, scary, fun, nerve-wracking and full of unknowns.

That transition is hard enough. Don't rush it by adding younger siblings to the mix. Your child may be an amazing helper with your other children but let her fly solo at home for a while before adding babysitting duties. She may be ready for the responsibilities associated with being home alone but the stress of taking care of younger children who want their mommy and will have many needs while you're away may be too much for all of your children to bear. You want her to grow into her independence and enjoy her home alone time without suffering a setback from not being able to properly care for her siblings.

You'll be kid-free for errands soon enough. Don't rush it.