How to know when your kid is old enough to be left alone

August 8 | Guest post by Megan
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Our daughter is almost 10. She's always been the sort to amuse herself, sometimes chilling in her room for hours and looking mildly surprised/annoyed when her dad or I pop our heads in to check on her, but we've never left her alone in the house. I believe she would be fine on her own for an hour, and I feel confident that she knows how to call 911, who to go to for help, etc., But I have this fear that she might get nervous at home alone.

On the other hand, I remember leaving her with a sitter for the first time when she was an infant, being absolutely certain that she would be frantic for me by the time I came home… to find her blissfully asleep with the sitter napping on the couch (something I hadn't done since the rugrat was born). I think the imaginary freak out is mine, not hers.

That being said, what do you guys think: At what age are kids ready to be left alone? -Amy

I've worked with kids quite a bit — coaching them, and what not. And I think it really depends on the child, where you are, and the situation. I know that some kids are just more mature than others at any given age. Even in a safe area there are some kids that can walk to school at kindergarten, while others will get distracted and meander and wind up tardy, even in fifth grade. I think it's also pretty obvious that a kid who could darn well be free-range in a rural area or city might not get to roam about next to a busy four lane road.

Here's what my experience was growing up, to give some good age context…

I was a pretty independent child and grew up in a small island town. I walked from my school to my father's office starting at age six. Both the school and his office were on the edges of downtown, so there was always someone you could talk to if there was any trouble. The route was maybe half a mile, I only had to cross at two crosswalks, and I practiced walking it with an adult between kindergarten and first grade.

Biking on the other hand, I had more restrictions on. I couldn't bike out of my neighborhood without an adult at eight, due to traffic and was only allowed to be on the big road at 10. As soon as the big road happened I was allowed to go anywhere in town unsupervised as long as I told my parents roughly where I'd be, who I was with, and when I'd be home.

Being home alone was something I did around seven for short periods — like if my parents ran errands. I also stayed home sick with stomach bugs a couple of times so my parents could work. They would both come home on staggered lunch breaks and call me a few times. I knew all about 911 and not to answer the door unless it was my neighbor, or a couple specific family friends.

When I was 14 my parents left town for a week, but I had to go stay with a friend because they felt I was a tad too young to watch the house for that long. I did get to stay alone for their next solo trip at 17 however.

My only lengthy vacation experiences were in suburbia seeing family and in a very large city. In suburbia I was always with someone. An adult always drove. There was too much traffic on the interstate for my cousins just learning to drive. However, when I was 12 or 13 my dad spent a summer working in a very big city with subway lines and buses. I went with him for that and was trusted to get from the apartment we had to his work alone. That involved three transit stop switches.

So my advice is to gauge things based on your level of realistic worry. Is your kid likely to get hit by a car because a road is too busy? Does your kid know not to call 911 because you're 15 minutes late getting home? Do they know that Person X has a bad reputation and that they are not to talk to them?

Those are my pieces of advice, what are yours on how to know when your kid is old enough to be left alone?

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  1. I think maturity is definitely more of a decision maker than age. After 8 or so, as long as the child is trustworthy, and capable of 'fending for themselves', I don't think it's an issue. I'm thinking staying home alone sick, and/or while parents are running errands, or going out, not house sitting alone for a few days, BTW.

    Of course, my brother and I grew up as latchkey kids, who didn't see their parents until around 6pm, so I probably have a biased view.

    3 agree
  2. I think you probably know your kid best. If you think she's ready, give it a go. Start small. "I'm running out to the store and I'll be back in thirty." Come back in 20 minutes. If she's afraid or into something she shouldn't be doing, now you know.
    Also, I hate to say this, but check your local laws. Maybe talk to a police officer or two. Because your kid may be ready and you may be ready, but if your neighbor calls CPS on you, you don't want to find out then that it's illegal to leave a kid under 14 home alone.

    20 agree
  3. I don't have any children, however I was interested in this from a legal standpoint. Here's the UK government's comment: "The law doesn’t say an age when you can leave a child on their own, but it’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk." https://www.gov.uk/law-on-leaving-your-child-home-alone

    I imagine that this vague description could mean (especially with a younger child) you could be liable if something fairly mundane is deemed to put them at risk. Knives on the drying rack, tools precariously balanced in the garage, building work in progress, that sort of thing.

    The NSPCC's guidelines also seem to have some useful questions to consider. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/leaving-child-home-alone

    2 agree
  4. Ten is absolutely old enough to be left alone at home. Of course, as has been pointed out, the individual child and the situation is more important than an arbitrary age. By the sound of it Amy's child would be fine left alone, but do it in small stages so both parents and child are comfortable with what the limits are. If it's only for an hour, she sounds like the sort of child who wouldn't even notice you were gone!

    1 agrees
  5. Out of curiosity, I checked the law for my country.
    In three out of ten provinces in Canada, it is illegal to leave a child under twelve alone. One also sets the age at which a child can be left alone in a vehicle- seven. That means in the other provinces, consequences (or lack of) are evaluated case by case and the law provides a series of conditions in which a child needs protection. If you're interested http://cwrp.ca/sites/default/files/publications/en/144e.pdf

    TL; DR check the law where you're at man, or you might get surprises. Even in the same country, there is no consensus between provinces.

    Side-note; I am the eldest of six. At twelve I was baby-sitting all of them about two hours every day after school until my mom returned from work. Did we die? No. But I wouldn't make my own kiddo do this, my family is dysfunctional as hell.

    2 agree
  6. Around here the law seems to say that it depends on the maturity of the kid and the judgement of the parent, with certain specifications: Never alone under 3 years, and at 7 years around 2 hours is ok if the kid can deal.
    I think I was probably 5 when my mother left me alone for a quick shopping trip. She asked me whether it was ok for me, and I wanted to do it. Then when she was gone I actually did get a bit scared. Luckily two girls from the neighborhood (1-2 years older than me) showed up and we played until my mother returned.
    I was 4 I think, when my parents allowed me on a holiday to walk back from the playground alone because I wanted to stay 10 minutes longer than everybody else. I was a really short walk, and they asked me whether I remembered it, and I said yes, and I got lost….. I took a turn too early and I definitely noticed it was wrong, but I didn't think to turn around until a woman talked to me and walked me back. It probably was a very short walk, but it felt huge! But a day later I was probably more proud of my adventure than scared :D.
    So maybe things didn't always go perfectly, but without trying stuff you never learn what you can do. And I had an easy way to school and walked it alone from first grade on and nothing ever went wrong (though my mother later admitted she followed me the first few days). When I was older I took the bus to swim training (though for the way back usually one of the parents from the neighborhood picked up a little group of us).

    Also, today with smartphones and everything, the parents are always reachable and you can even plan on having the kid call you at a certain time, or call them etc..

    1 agrees
  7. I think 10 is fine for a couple hours during the day. Not overnight.
    In the late 70's when I was 4, my mom would go pick up my older siblings from school in the afternoon, leaving me at home with my napping baby brother. She'd set me up the kitchen with an activity and show me on the clock what time she would return, pointing to where the big hand would be about 15-20 min later.
    I felt so responsible and grown-up in the quiet house by myself, and luckily nothing ever happened. But looking back it totally makes me shudder and I could go to jail for doing that today! It's crazy how quickly our standards on child safety have changed, and while we have these concerns for a reason, it's important not to rob our kids from empowering feelings of independence and responsibility.

    1 agrees
  8. We lived in a bunch of places as I was growing up, but I spent the most time in a tiny town of under 2000 people. I've been babysitting other people's kids and my own siblings by myself since I was 9. But I've also been changing diapers since I was two (my next closest sibling is 2 years younger than me. It's one of my earliest memories.). However, my siblings weren't trusted nearly as much as I was. Being the oldest I was held responsible for everything. While I had less freedom in the fact that I was always the one to babysit, I also had more freedom in doing things like going to the library or the store by myself. I know my little brother was never allowed to go places by himself or stay at home by himself until he was at least 14. But he was the baby so he was looked after like a hawk. Even though we grew up in the same household we grew up very differently.

    My nieces (twins) weren't allowed to stay by themselves until they were almost 13. But they live in the middle of nowhere so I think that makes a difference. By then their little brother was 3 so my sister figured the two of them could handle an hour here or there without parents around.

    I think it depends on how you're raised. 10 year old me was an old hat at being left alone. 10 year old other siblings, not so much. And I've met 10 year olds of my friends that are basically already "mom" so they're super responsible and are able to stay by themselves for a few hours. Others are either too scared to be away from mom and dad or just don't have the maturity level. And that's fine. Kids should be kids. Each one is different so I think it's a case by case basis.

    2 agree

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