At some point when your child hits the early middle school years, you realize that by his age, you had occasional babysitting jobs. And if you were old enough to babysit, doesn't that mean you don't have to pay someone else to watch this child every time you leave the house? Can you free up that extra cash in your budget for something really important, like manicures?
All kidding aside, the decision to leave kids home alone isn't one to be made lightly. It's important to take your time and carefully consider a variety of factors.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, "State child abuse and neglect reporting laws do not specify the age at which a child can be left home alone. No consistent community standards exist describing when and under what circumstances children can be left alone or in the care of other children."
However, HHS notes that you may find local, county, or state policies or ordinances that are enforced in your area, so call your local police department or Child Protective Services for information. You can find your local child protective services agency by calling Childhelp USA at 1.800.422.4453.
Even if your child is legally allowed to be home alone, he may not be emotionally ready. So, as tempting as it is to toss him $20 for a pizza and be out the door, stop and think first.
The National Network for Child Care has a checklist that you and your child can each answer separately to determine if you're on the same page with your thinking. The yes or no questions include:
The full list of questions can be found here.
If you think your child is ready to stay home alone, start with a trial run. You are perfectly within your parental rights not to share all the details of this trial run with your child. Instead, give the normal instructions, leave the house with your cell phone on, and then choose one or more tests from the following:
When you do feel comfortable leaving your child home alone, keep your first few outings to no more than an hour, and be sure you're reachable by phone. Also, be sure to check out these 6 tips from SheKnows for protecting kids who are home alone.
Gradually, you can start increasing the amount of time you're out of the house. Always remain reachable, but demonstrate your trust in your child by not calling him every 10 minutes.
One day, you'll find that you haven't paid for a babysitter in months. It's a great feeling -- and that's a great kid you've got.
Tell us: What age do you think is appropriate to leave kids home alone? Comment below!
Checklist questions reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Hansen, A. (1993). Home alone. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *School-age connections*, 3(1), pp. 1-3. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.
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