Leaving Your Child Home Alone: What You Should Know

Reagan Fausett

“Ugh, mom! You’re so embarrassing.” 

“Dad, you don’t need to come with me—I can do it myself!”

If you’re the parent of a child approaching their “tween” or teen years, these statements might sound all too familiar. Whether it’s wanting to get behind the wheel or have their very own phone, your kids are likely in a rush to grow up (funny how that changes when they actually do grow up!). 

This longing to have adult privileges isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s pretty darn normal. But, as a parent, it can also be hard to get used to. Your once-loyal sidekick with whom you stormed imaginary castles and played hopscotch would rather hang out with friends at the mall (or whatever the equivalent of that is nowadays) and learn TikTok dances. 

To your chagrin, your kiddo is getting older, and you’re going to have to start giving them a few more privileges and a little more space than you’re used to. And one way to start is by conceding when your child begs you to stay home alone. 

As scary as leaving your child home alone may sound, there are plenty of ways you can ensure they stay safe (and out of trouble) while still having that thrilling “house-to-yourself” feeling. 

How Old Should Your Child Be to Stay Home Alone

As you know, just because your child may feel ready to handle an evening alone doesn’t mean they actually are. This goes for older children as well, but particularly the ambitious youngsters who are looking to bite off more than they can chew. 

Generally speaking, you as the parent get to decide at what age your child is ready to stay home alone, but there are also some legal aspects to take into consideration. 

While only a couple of states have delineated a specific age a child must be to stay home alone, it’s important to check what the law may be in your state. In case anything does go wrong while your child is left alone, you may face legal consequences if they’re below your state’s age limit. 

If your state doesn’t have a set age, here are a few general guidelines you can adhere to when leaving your child home alone:

  • Kids ages 7 and under: Kids this young shouldn’t be left alone in any location (including home and the car) for any amount of time. 
  • Kids ages 8 to 10 years: Although they’re a bit older, this age group shouldn’t be left alone for more than about an hour and a half during daylight hours, and not for any amount of time at night. 
  • Kids ages 11 to 12 years: Regardless of the protestations they may make, even kids in this age group shouldn’t be left alone late at night or for more than a few hours. They also shouldn’t be left with responsibilities beyond their capacity (such as babysitting too many children or a child too young for them to care for safely).
  • 13 to 15 Years: Kids in the early to mid teen years may be left alone, but not overnight. 
  • 16 to 17 Years: As they approach adulthood, older teens may be unsupervised for up to two nights (of course this depends on their level of maturity and responsibility).

How Do I Know if My Child is Ready?

Even if your child is old enough to stay home alone, that may not mean they’re ready to do so. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when assessing whether or not your child is responsible and mature enough to stay home alone:

  • Does your child handle other responsibilities well (e.g. completing chores and homework, practicing a sport or instrument, getting good grades)?
  • Is your child calm in stressful situations? (Could they handle an emergency if necessary?)
  • Does your child have strong problem-solving skills?
  • Is your child comfortable and confident with the idea of staying home alone?

If you can easily answer “yes” to these questions, your child may be ready to stay home alone. 

What to Do When Leaving Your Child Home Alone

If you’ve decided that your child can manage staying home alone, there’s a little bit of training you should put them through:

  • Make sure they know how to contact authorities. It’s always a good idea to leave your child instructions on who to call in case something happens. If there’s an emergency, they should call 9-1-1, but if the situation isn’t that dire, leave your child the number of another trusted adult who could come help them in your absence. And, while you’re at it, it may be a good idea to give your child a little run-down on what qualifies as an emergency and what does not. (We don’t want any 9-1-1 calls over an overflowing toilet!)
  • Remind them about basic safety skills. If there is an urgent or emergency situation, it may take emergency responders or an adult a bit of time to come to your child’s aid, so be sure they know a few basic things they can do to help themselves:
    • Review basic first-aid skills.
    • Make sure they know where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it.
    • Teach them to keep doors and windows locked and security systems armed.
    • Ensure they know how to handle bigger situations like power outages or large storms.
  • Teach them to practice personal safety. Let your child know that they shouldn’t answer the phone or open the door for anyone unless otherwise instructed by you (even if it’s someone they know). Also teach them to never divulge to anyone that they will be home alone. 
  • Let a trusted friend or neighbor know. If you’re planning on leaving your child home alone, be sure that a trusted adult nearby knows and is willing to help if need be. You can put this person’s number on your child’s “to call” list and let your child know that it’s okay to talk to or open the door for this person if your child has any emergency or urgent issue. 
  • Stay connected. Nothing eases a parent’s and child’s mind more than knowing that the other is just a phone call away. With Troomi, your child can contact you if they have a problem or just need to hear a friendly voice when they’re home alone. Troomi phones also come programmed with emergency contact numbers that your child can call if a problem arises. 

So there you have it: leaving your child home alone can be stressful, but it’s a part of your child growing up. And with the right timing, training, and tools, you won’t have to worry too much about your child staying home alone for a few hours. But, if you do worry a little too much, you can always call up your kiddo on their Troomi phone to check on them!