At some point most every parent will experience that moment when their tween asks "Pleeease! I don't want to go to the store with you... can I stay home alone instead?" This can be an exciting (and maybe even a tiny bit scary) time for both parent and child (mostly the parent).
It is common for parents to ask themselves "is my tween ready to stay home alone?" and "What is the age law on children staying home alone?"
Many adults believe the "law" is age 12. So it comes as a surprise to find out that in most states there is no age "law" minimum for kids staying home alone, just recommendations. The "recommendation" for Washington State is 10, but it is not a law.
Only you can gauge your childs' readiness (and if the situation is safe) to stay home alone. If you are considering allowing your tween to stay home alone here is a parents’ guide to help ask the right questions and determine the maturity level and readiness of having your child stay home alone for short periods of time:
- Does your child know how to dial 9-1-1?
- Does your child know your full name and address?
- Does your child know how to operate the phone correctly?
- What are your rules regarding cooking or playing outside when you are not at home?
- Can your child respond correctly to "What if" situations such as, "What if the power went out?” or, “What if there were a fire?”.
- Have you reviewed your rules on answering the phone or the door if you are not home?
- What are your rules about having friends over when you are not at home?
- Does your child show an interest or confidence in staying home alone?
- If your child will be watching a sibling, do they get along?
- Will a younger sibling respect the rules and authority of the older sibling?
- Does your child know what to do if they become injured while home alone?
- Can your child lock and unlock the door to your home?
- Is your child physically capable and physically healthy enough to stay home alone?
If you have determined that your tween is probably ready to stay home alone, make sure that the first time they are home alone, it is during the daytime for a short period of time -- 30 minutes -- and that you are not too far from home. They should not be in charge of siblings yet. When you get home, discuss with your child how it went being home alone. Did they have any concerns? What went well? What could they do better?
Staying home alone is a big step for tweens and with the proper preparation and support it can be a good experience for both of you.
About the author: Kim Estes is a child safety expert and the founder of Savvy Parents Safe Kids. Kim believes that every child deserves a safe childhood and that with prevention education, adults have the power to keep children safer.