Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: What’s the Right Age for Letting Your Child Stay Home Alone?

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You don’t need me to tell you when your kid is old enough to be left home alone. You know. I know you know.

I can tell you my story. The details. My older daughter was 8, going into third grade. It was the week before the start of school, both my kids needed haircuts. The salon was only about 10 blocks from my house, the appointment wouldn’t take long, the neighbors were home. I left her my phone. I took her little sister.

It was no big deal. And yet, it was monumental for both of us. It was Liberty.

Free.

Freed.

Freedom.

For both of us.

She got run of the house and I got to read in a waiting room while no one complained. It was magical. Truth.

With both of them now old enough to be home alone, the world is a new place. A shiny, shiny, new place.

I’d be lying if I said that leaving the house all by my lonesome after almost a decade of constant companionship was not one of the best feelings in all of parenthood. Moving though a grocery store while no one talks at me or asks for cookies/cereal/candy/crappy checkout-stand toys — or simply adds things to the cart while I’m not looking? Nirvana.

But it’s not just that.

This is the moment you’ve been working towards every minute of their entire short lives. This is the payoff. This is the point. And it’s not about wanting a few minutes away from them, though you are totally full of crap if your say you don’t.

It’s OK. They want a few minutes away from you, too.

Congratulations, you’re raising a human who is capable of navigating the world on her own. Or his own. Whichever. You are letting your little person take another huge step toward self-sufficiency. You are teaching yourself that she will be OK out there because you have provided her with the tools and the confidence to do it.

This is the place where you begin to see your success as a parent. Also, it’s survival instinct. They’re wired for it.

I left both of my daughters for the first time at the age of 8, but it’s no magic number. It just happened to be the age my kids were confident and comfortable with being on their own for short periods in the day.

They weren’t afraid. They knew how to reach me. They knew to only open the door for the specific people that I said were OK. If they had a problem, they knew where in the neighborhood they could go for help. In the worst-case scenario, I was confident they could get through an emergency.

I knew all of these facts, and more importantly for me, my intuition said every little thing was gonna be alright (thanks, Bob Marley.) Identifying the age of independence is about following your kid’s lead and listening to your gut.

Sure you’ll still worry about them. Yes, you will want to text incessantly. But don’t.

They can do it.

And so can you.

Preparing Your Kids to Stay Home Alone:

1) The American Red Cross offers a “When I’m in Charge” class for kids 8-11, to prepare them for staying home alone.

2) If you do not have a land line, consider adding a house cell phone to your account. Leave it plugged into a charger that never moves so your kids will have a phone and know where to find it when you are gone.

3) Leave a contact list of emergency numbers near the phone.

4) Let neighbors know you will be out and your kids may call them.

 
More from Holly Goodman

How to Connect with Your Older Kids Through Books

Summer is Long, Pace Yourself: How to Survive Your Tween’s Summer Vacation

On Kids’ and Independence: Are We Parenting to Our Kids’ Past Instead of Our Present?

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