Is Your Child Responsible Enough to be Home Alone? Dos and Don’ts for Parents


Many parents are at a loss for what to do with their older children during  the summer months – they may get the summer off, but you  probably don’t. That leaves a whole chunk of time to fill each day. How do you  know if your child is responsible enough to be left home alone? What if you know  he isn’t, but he won’t stop begging to be in charge of his own schedule this  summer?

Before we jump into deciding whether  your child is responsible enough to be  left home alone, you should know that  some states have legal restrictions on  how old a child must be before being left  alone in your house. The National  SAFEKIDS Campaign  recommends that no child under the age of  12 be left at home alone. Please be sure to look into the  regulations in your home  state.

If your child is legally old enough to be left home  alone, how can  you tell if they actually deserve to be left home alone?

What if you’ve tried it before, and  they broke your trust by having too many  friends over, or by not getting their  chores done in the time you scheduled for  them?

Related: How to stop disrespectful child and teen  behavior, starting today.

While every family is different,  there are certainly some good guidelines  for how to decide whether a child is  responsible enough to stay home alone,  even part of the time.

  • Does  your child follow basic safety  rules, and can she tell you where she would go  for help if she needed it? (be  sure to have a list of emergency numbers in a  central place in your  home)
  • Has  your child shown improvement in  other areas of his life, such as increased  compliance with household chores  (even if he disagrees with them)?
  • Are  you willing to set clear  expectations and rules, and follow through  consistently with the consequences  for not meeting those expectations?

(If your child doesn’t meet these  basic criteria, don’t worry. We’ll talk  more about how to work towards those  goals a little later in this article.)

Once you’ve made the decision to let them try being on their  own,  there are several things you might want to consider:

DON’T: be vague about your  expectations. Don’t expect your  child to “just know” what the rules are. Your  ideas about common sense  aren’t  necessarily the same as your child’s.

DO: be very clear with your child  about your rules and  expectations. This includes any daily chores, as well as  rules around how many  friends can be in the house at one time, and whether your  child can leave your  home to go elsewhere. Clarity now means fewer problems  later.

DON’T: let consequences be a  surprise.

DO: tell your child what he stands  to lose. Just as you  need to be clear about your expectations, you also need to  be clear about the  consequences for not meeting those expectations. Again,  clarity now means fewer  problems later.

DON’T: have nowhere else to go. It  certainly is tricky  figuring out what to do with your older child if staying  home alone is not an  option. However, if your child knows there is nowhere else  you can send her,  why should she comply with the rules related to staying home  alone?

For example, if you say – “you only  get to stay home alone during the day if  you complete x,y, and z, and have no  more than 3 friends over at any one time,” but your kid knows you have nowhere  else to send her, why should she follow the  rules? As a parent, you’re  effectively powerless in that situation.

Related: Child or teen pushing your buttons and making  you crazy? Here’s how to keep your cool and take charge.

DO: have a back-up plan. Can your  child be sent to a  parent, grandparent, or family friend? Is there a day camp,  vocational program,  or volunteer service where they might spend their day? Be  sure your child knows  where they’ll be going if they can’t comply with your  rules.

DON’T: overschedule your child’s  day. While it’s tempting  to give a long list of things to be done each day so  that your child has no  time to get into trouble, such an approach is unlikely  to be effective.

DO: leave some empty space. Some  chores or daily tasks  should be on your list of expectations, obviously. But  allow there to be down  time in there, too. If there is no benefit to staying  home alone – freedom,  play time, spontaneity – your child won’t bother  complying with the rules that  let him stay home alone in the first place.

DON’T: force your child to adhere to  a strict structure  while you’re not home. It’s impossible to dictate what your  child does in any  given hour while you’re not there.

Think back to your own childhood: if  you were left home alone with a list of  chores that needed to be completed  before mom or dad got home, when did you do  those chores? Exactly. Most likely,  you rushed to complete them in the last 20  minutes before their car pulled in  the driveway. Your kid is no  different.

DO: Give your child a list of things  you expect to be  completed by the time you return home. Let her know that while  she can choose when she does them,  she cannot choose not to do them.   Letting your child dictate the order and rhythm of her day will help her learn   to manage her time effectively. It’s definitely a learning curve, so use your   privileges and consequences to help her practice those skills.

Related: How to give consequences that  work.

DON’T: dive right in with leaving your  child alone all day,  every day.

DO: if possible, give your child a  limited trial run. Let  them know that they will earn more time alone as they  show you they can handle  it. This will allow you to gauge their ability to  follow the rules, and to stay  home alone safely.

Begin by letting them have shorter  windows where they can demonstrate their  ability to follow rules even when they don’t want to. Remind  them that  they only earn more independence when they show they can follow the  rules as  they are now.

If your child is basically  responsible – they have a part time job, decent  grades, keep up with their  chores (even if they do so begrudgingly), you can be  a little more generous with  your starting point. You might have them in a  half-day program somewhere, or  give them one day a week to try things at home  on their own. Extend that time  as you see them consistently meet your  expectations.

If your child isn’t so good at  following the rules as they are now, give him  a chance to earn an hour at home by himself while you head to the store or the  gym. You might say: ‘I know you  want to stay home alone all summer. In order to  even consider that, I need to  see that you can comply with my rules. I’m  willing to let you earn a short  amount of time home alone as a trial run. To  start, when you’ve completed all  of your chores each day for three days in a  row, I will let you stay home while  I go out for an hour. When you show me you  can do an hour responsibly, I’m  willing to talk about extending that time.’

Doing it this way lets your child  know exactly what skills they need to  improve, and what they can expect to  receive for that improvement. Break it  down into steps, and help them learn and  practice those steps.

Whatever your starting point, if at  any time your child fails to meet your  expectations, you can put them back on  the reduced schedule. You might even  give them fair warning: “you didn’t get  your chores done while you were home  today. I’ll give you a chance to do better  tomorrow, but if you can’t get them  done, you’ll go back to a half day again  this week. I know you want to be on  your own, so show me you can handle it.”

Related: Why the ability to solve problems is the key  to better child behavior.

And one last thing:

DON’T: make it all-or-nothing. If  your child lies, or  breaks the rules, don’t remove any chance to stay home  alone for the whole rest  of the summer.

DO: let your child earn his freedom  back again. Look, kids  want autonomy. They want to be able to be in charge of  their own day. That’s a  powerful motivator. Use it to your advantage by letting  your child earn back  your trust, even if he’s broken the rules. If you tell him  he doesn’t have a  chance to earn back that daily privilege of being home alone,  why would he  follow any of your rules this summer?

Remember, as James Lehman says: you  can’t punish a child into better  behavior. You can help your child improve his behavior through the use  of clear  expectations and consequences.

Find ways to let him show you he’s  improving his ability to follow the  rules. Find ways to help him learn better  skills. Keep him working towards his goal  of being on his own.

Remember – you actually want your child to have the skills it  takes  to stay at home safely and responsibly. You want them to learn the  time-management and self-regulation skills  that will let them balance  responsibility and play as they move into adulthood.

The more they can show you their  skills are improving, the more freedom and  autonomy they can have.

And that will help make a great  summer – for everyone.


Read more:

This entry was posted in Everyone, For Parents, Kids. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>