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?