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Home Alone: When Can Kids Stay Home Without a Babysitter?

Wondering when it's safe and appropriate to leave your child at home while you're at work or running errands? While some states and countries have legal guidelines on leaving minors unaccompanied, Circle of Moms members argue that parents should also consider other factors before deciding when to leave their children home alone. Keep reading for their six key tips.

1. Age

While there is no absolute consensus on the right age to begin leaving a child home alone, many Circle of Moms members argue that age 10-11 is a good general benchmark for quick daytime trips, with longer unattended stints or an evening alone becoming appropriate during the early teens. Angie B. explains: "I think 10 is an acceptable age to leave children for an hour or so. Twelve or 13 might be okay for a night out — if you get home at a reasonable hour. Sixteen or 17 is a good age to stay overnight — if the neighbors know so they have a place to go if there is an emergency."

2. Maturity

"Age is only part of it," contends Shana W. "I was babysitting at 12, but I was very mature for my age. My son is also mature so we had no problems when we started leaving him home for short periods of time (at 10) . . . My daughter on the other [hand] is 10 now, and I wouldn't leave her alone. I love her, but she is more of a free spirit."


Krista E. agrees: "t all depends on the kid, really. My older nephew, at age 8, could be trusted to be in the house alone (heck, I would have trusted him to do my taxes — that's what this kid is like). His brother at that age? You leave him for five minutes he'd have the house burned down. Not that he's a bad kid, but just really impulsive and inquisitive."

3. Emergency Readiness

"Will your child really not answer the door?" asks Jacinta P. "Would they know what to do if there was a fire? Would they cope if they fell over and hurt themselves? Would they know what to do in a medical emergency?" It's imperative to assess whether you child could independently handle a health emergency or even a natural disaster.

In addition to going over a detailed emergency plan with your child before leaving them alone, moms like Amy J. suggest sending your child to a first aid/CPR or babysitting course: "I sent my oldest daughter, age 11, to a babysitter training course through Red Cross before I felt comfortable leaving her alone . . . She was CPR certified and I felt like she was very well equipped with the proper knowledge of what to do in an emergency."

Even the most mature children should also have a list of important numbers handy, including those of trusted adults nearby.

4. Siblings

If other siblings are at home, the home-alone situation needs to be evaluated through the lens of the siblings' relationships. Mother-of-three Rebecca Z. explains: "My sons are 12 and 10, and although I think they're old enough to be alone, they fight constantly and I'm nervous about them actually hurting each other when no one is around."

Additionally, many moms aren't comfortable with preteens babysitting younger siblings. Jackie I. shares: "I certainly wouldn't be leaving that age (junior high) with a younger sibling. I think it's too much responsibility on the off chance something goes wrong. As we all know, it only takes a second."

5. Ground Rules

Before allowing a child to stay home alone, countless moms insist that clear rules need to be explained and understood. As mom Meghan advises: "It is important that children are clear about what they can and can't do in the house. Think about both your general house rules and especially those that apply when you're not there. For example, is it appropriate and safe for your child to do things like making a hot drink, turning on the heater, or running a bath while you are away?" Jodi A. adds: "He has instructions to never answer the door, and only answer phone calls from myself, his grandparents, or my husband (we have caller ID on our phone, so he can see our names come up).

6. Earning Trust

Many moms caution that it's important to build trust gradually. Vera A. explains: "My daughter just turned 11. We do short stints away while she stays home. She knows the rules and follows them. So I say, if your child can follow your rules and respect why you've set those rules, then they are ready for a little independence. Just let that time alone grow with them, don't jump in and leave them all day without supervision until you are sure they are ready."

ChetMC ChetMC 4 years
Honestly, I've left kids home alone at pretty much every age. I'm not going to wake a sleeping baby or toddler to go pick up another child from the school bus when it's the dead of winter and the bus stop is 50m from the house. We once lived on the 5th floor of an apartment complex with a parking garage in the basement. At the time we had three kids ages 1, 3.5 and 5. One person couldn't take a car load of groceries and three kids from the garage up to the apartment in one trip. You pretty much had to take the kids upstairs, leave them, and go back to get the groceries. Our oldest was 8 the first time she was home alone for a half an hour. She wanted to stay home and read a book. In a pinch, I will leave our 4 and 5 year old watching a movie to go out for a few minutes - watching tv is such a treat they wouldn't dream of moving an inch. The world is a much safer place today than it was in the 70s or 80s, and believe that you get a lot from kids when you expect a lot from them. The big thing for me is that the child feels comfortable and confident. I wouldn't leave a child home who didn't want to be left alone.
RaquelLazarPaley2897 RaquelLazarPaley2897 5 years
It depends also on where you live. If you're out in the boondocks or in a dangerous city, then these ages sound about right. But we live in a safe city (in Israel, which is very child-friendly) and it's very typical for children as young as 6 to be left home alone for a few hours at a time. We're never more than 15 minutes away, and we've been leaving our now 9 and 8 year old girls for increasing stretches of time for the last 2 years. Our daughters even prepare (part of our) meals from time to time (they're not allowed to use the stovetop, though, if we're not home). If our 3 year-old is home as well, we get a neighbor (14 year-old) to watch the three kids for up to 3-4 hours. Very typical here.
JudithStewart JudithStewart 5 years
I have left my 8 year old a couple of times home alone for 10 minutes when she was off sick from school whilst I ran down to school to drop of my youngest. She understands not to answer the door or phone and we have taught her basic first aid and have even tested her by phoning the house / knocking on the door to see if she would answer as she has not - she stayed out of sight and was very responsible. However I would not leave her for any more than say half an hour just yet. .
LeylaAbdulladeGroot LeylaAbdulladeGroot 5 years
I must say,things are very different in the US and West EU from the rest of the world. Where children learn to ride horses at 4, or swim in deep at 3, or make fire at 6, watch younger siblings at 8, etc. I was left at home from age 4. Breakfast on the table, appliences disconnected, door locked. I had a wonderful world i created myself, becasue i was left alone- my mind was free to watvch and make sense of all. I also learned to be careful becasue I knew my paretns couldn't help me if I was stupid.Of course hey were worried, but they both had to work, and couldn't afford a sitter. It might be for 3 hours alone- its difficult for a parent- but one would be amazed how wise a child can get fast when GIVEN responcibility. They had my trust, I had theirs. Started to babysit at age 9. Wanted to be a mom from 13. Love children. Now lucky mom of 2, 6 and 4 year olds:and my kids are just as mature. They never drew on the walls, broke anything, etc. due to good explanation of why. Why shouldn'a kid light up matches of open hot water? Because it can burn you, kill you...Do most of the kids even know whet aburn feels like, or dead looks like? If you constantly protect a child from reality, they can't learn it. I let my children try everything in controlled environment, and showed them what sick, or dead look like. They don't want to be like that. They have no interest in chemicals under the sink, or bonfire making. Thats the thing- there's much aggression, death in western TV shows, which creates paraoia, but teaches nothing. We went to school from age 6 alone. Not far- but still alone. Your fore-fathers did the same. women, working in fields left children alone in the hay. BUt everyone was told about the big bad wolf, and seen death, and loss. We all have survival instinct.Bad thing can happen everywhere. I believe with good teaching, together with very secure environment can allow a parent ot leave their 6 year old for an hour or two. Especially when they have something inresting to do. And, it all depends ona child. how many adults do you know who break stuff at people's homes, make appliences short circuit,finish up food from the table. or do anytng else generally dumb. Based on that, there's no age limit to leaving someone alone.
JoYoung9001 JoYoung9001 5 years
Not only is there the maturitly issue, you should chesck with your local law enforcement because certain ares have a set age. Both Washington and Colorado state a child cannot be left alone responsibly under the age of 12, and this includes in the catr. In c olorado if you leave your kid in the car while you run ointo the store for milj, they are gone and you go to jail It was a base too so very strict, o my kids 7 and 2 go with mom everywhere, even the tobacco store because they cant make you leave them outside when its against the law
hollyvilla38647 hollyvilla38647 5 years
My 9 yr old wants to stay home alone so bad. I told her, when i see improvement of responsibility from you then we might think about that. I told her the #1 rule is, let no one in the house when we are not home! then she asked about her friends.... NO sorry! i told her that's one of the reasons why you're not going to stay home alone!
RichardCornell RichardCornell 5 years
You have some very old 10 year old and then you have 18 year old that should tar and feather because they are wild. If they are little terroeists when they are small should they not also be one when they are older. Just because they are older in age does not mean that they are wise in age. If you lived on a farm where children grow up quickly when they handle machinery unlike their counter part in a city. It was not too long ago that 12 year old went out and worked for the rest of their lives. A 10 year old knows the different between right and wrong what is expected from them and what they can get away with. If your children can not be trusted then maybe there is something wrong with the parents. Here is a better way to look at your child. In war torn countries you arm the children to fight a war. A 10 year old can be told to walk into a room and blow themselves up whereas a 12 year old will laugh in your face. A 12 year old can fire an AK-47 or an RPG at an target without fear while an older child will think about it. Expect more out of your children then your parents expected from you. They might surprise you on what they can do
LynnThomas26045 LynnThomas26045 6 years
I am a single mother right now and have tried to leave my son alone for 10-15 minutes at a time.However, the first time he freaked out and went to the city hall next door. Then the second time the bus driver was to let him off at the library and instead let him off at our house and he freaked again and walked down the street towards town and the mailman took him into the post office to call my house. I then went home to find him gone and did not know where he was ( I went home because he did not show up where I was). The bus driver came back when she realized that he was supposed to go to the library. Now, because I have worked with him I can go to the store and to the post office and he is fine. He even said it was okay for me to go to the store about 15 min. away and 15 min. back. But then when I got home he was next door again. The lady had called to see if I had left the store yet and when I got home he was not there and scared the day lights out of me because you never know and He knows to not open the door for anyone unless it is me, he also knows not to answer the phone. I now do not leave him alone unless he is sleeping and it only for the quick trip to the local store (2 seconds there). I do wake him up enough to tell him that I am running to the store. He is 9 years old. I believe that parents need to know their children and the child needs to earn the trust of the parents. I know my son is not ready to be left alone so I do not leave him.
KeriWiseman KeriWiseman 6 years
My oldest daughter is nearly 12, and I feel comfortable leaving her alone with a list of chores and responsibilities. However, I would never leave her with her younger siblings. We did a trial period with her before we allowed her to stay home alone for any period of time. Like many other mothers have said, it depends on the child. She is very responsible when given a list of items that needs to get done, but she's also very bossy when her other siblings are around, so it'll be quite awhile before I feel comfortable allowing her to "babysit" with her younger brother and sister.
AmieJellison AmieJellison 6 years
My brother and I were left home alone when we were 9 and 10. Both of my parents needed to work and they worked nights. At the time we lived in Va, and had blizzards, ice storms, and power outages, we knew what needed to be done and I feel that it does depend on the child, I have a 10 almost 11 yo and am still debating on weather to leave her alone. She is a very responsible girl, she would be fine, it just makes me nervous.
DionneMcKinney DionneMcKinney 6 years
My son is 9 and will be 10 in a month. I started off just running errands to the store which is less than 5 minutes away. There were ground rules that he had to follow and they were to not naswer the door for anyone when he was a bit younger. If he were to answer the phone, he was to tell the caller than I was in the shower or something but not to tell them I wasn't home. It took him a couple of years before he got it right and remembered the rules. Two weeks ago, he stayed home by himself with his 2 year old dog while I went to work. Same rule with the door but with the phone he was only allowed to answer if certain people called (caller ID). I forgot to call him from my desk to let him know I was on my way home and so I called him from the phone in the hallway. He didn't answer. But my mom lives up the street and his godmom, her husband and his older cousin live across the street. It not only depends on all the factors listed in the article but on state law as well. There is no age limit as to when a child can be a latchkey kid in my state.
christyDean37634 christyDean37634 6 years
i am a single working mother with 11yo twin girls, i have left my girls sometimes while i am at work as they follow my rules of safety pretty well. however i do call and check on them at least every hour or so to make sure everything is ok. i also have neighbors that they can go to in case something serious comes up and they know to call 911 in an emergency or for something less serious me or my parents. i also talked to a local police officer about the age to leave a child home alone and he told me so long as you feel they are ready and they know not to open the door, or answer the phone and to call 911 in the event of any emergency before doing anything else. i still worry when i do leave them but i have to work and my mom isnt always willing to help out to watch them. i feel more comfortable there being 2 of them, one can call for help if the other is hurt or something. if i only had one child i think i would definetly make sure to have a sitter.
ToryDaviss ToryDaviss 6 years
My children are 4, 9 and 14. I will leave the 14 year old home and trust her completely on her own. As for watching her siblings I will only leave 1 at home with her and take the other. This is more to the fact the younger two will gang up on their sister and no longer listen or take note of what she says. I still won't leave my 9, almost 10 year old alone as the trust and responsibility isn't quite there. You definately have to base it on the individual personality and behaviour rather than age.
Sai82957 Sai82957 6 years
In none of the comments have I seen the suggestion of latch-key kids. While I'm an at home mom now, I grew up a latch-key kid from age 9. My brother and I walked home from school together, went inside and made a snack. We sat and watched TV and stayed out of trouble til either parent came home (no more than 2 hours). My parents worked out of necessity and my parents judged my maturity level to be such that we didn't need a sitter (they were less trustworthy anyway). I will leave my 10 and 8 year olds at home for a few mins while running to the store but not for hours (which is why we haven't had a date night in 10 years). They have never fought while we were out, they sit in the room that I ask them to and watch TV or play video games. They don't eat while I am out and know emergency numbers, my cell number and the home number as well as not to answer the door or phone unless it's me. If it came down to it, my kids could latch-key because they are responsible enough to do it, I raised them to be responsible and respectful (of each other and their home) and they are mature beyond my 30-something *second* brother.
KellyCameron27650 KellyCameron27650 6 years
I have a 10 year old daughter and my fiance and I have been thinking about leaving her at home after school since before the previous school year. She will be 11 next month and going to middle school. We will be revisiting this issue and probably going to try some of the ideas within the comments of this article. I appreciate all of the ideas and other moms' experiences to help us to make a decision.
AndriaSagri AndriaSagri 6 years
I had a friend who started leaving her kid at home to go to the bar at the age of 8 while he was sleeping. Couldn't tell her anything. My son who is a year older spent the night and when she told me that she went to the bar thast night, that was the last night my so spent the night. My oldest is 12 and I have left him at home for at the most 2.5 hours. It's not that I don't trust him, I can put it in front of the x-box and he'll play for hours. He knows what he can and can not do. We live in an apartment and people are always looking out for people who don't belong in the building. I have caller-ID that shows on the TV so he doesn't even have to pick up the phone to see whose calling. I have left my youngest who is 9 at home to run to CVS for at the most 30 minutes. He just sits in front of the computer and plays games while I am gone. They both know when to call me and never to answer the door or the phone or go outside when I am not home.
SandyLora SandyLora 6 years
In this day and age of rapists, murders and sadistic people ... it's really not safe to leave any kids home alone. Just because you tell them not to answer the door or phone ... their little minds are tempted to see who it is so you can't really trust them ... only because of preditors!!
TrudiEdwardsAtkinson TrudiEdwardsAtkinson 6 years
On another point of view.. In Ontario the legal babysitting age is 12. So if I am expected to allow my 12 year ol to babysit for others how can I not leave her at home for short periods of time? She took the course at 11 and watches her nine year old sister for a few hours here and there... And btw... FAMILY & CHILDREN'S SERVICES cleared it. So there may be much more to that story on ere than is being told.. OR maybe live in a different area!! Rules vary from province to province. I think it depends entirely o. The kid. I can leave my nine year old at home for fifteen or twenty minutes also but my eight year old has a completely different maturity and personality and I don't leave her alone for thirty secods. And never with her 12 year old sister.
LisaBaisner LisaBaisner 6 years
Here's some things to think about! Some children may be mature, but in a REAL emergency, would they really know what to do? I had my 9 year old son in a playground Supervised at IKEA by at least 4 adult staff members all over the age of 15. While there he cut his eye on a wire inside of a play struture. None of them knew what to do. I found him on the ground screaming holding his bloody face. I asked for ice and rushed him to the closest hospital. He had to have 7 stitches. So before you leave an 8 year old home by themselves, or any CHILD ...think about living with yourself if something tragic happened, while you were gone. Sorry for the harshness, but it's time to pay attention to the real world!
CindyBladen CindyBladen 6 years
I believe it depends on the kids and your location. I have 4 kids, live out in the sticks surrounded by a bunch of family and have 3 German Shepherd's in the house. I very rarely leave my kids home, but that's because my 3 youngest are boys :-) I can leave my daughter, and know she'll be fine, and know she'll call if she needs anything. It all depends on circumstances!
AnnabelCowley AnnabelCowley 6 years
Pretty much along the lines which we work to. Elder daughter stays home whilst I take her younger sister to clubs etc, for an hour or 2 (she is 12) plus after school she often beat me (and her younger sister) home by 10 minutes or so. Only recently (her younger sister is 10) have we left them together, usually to run to the local shop, or pick up their Dad from work (10 minutes away). We are thinking that in the next year or so we will start leaving them for short times in the evening, especially when you know its finishing by 8pm, even getting a sitter for early evening can be hard as they are not intersted in short jobs round here (EMA has a lot to answer for)
TracyWoodman TracyWoodman 6 years
It's a rough topic, because while there's no problem with a child (at a certain age) being left home alone, if something were to happy and social services got involved all they'd see is a kid home alone. Been there, done that, and the kids had the Babysitter (CPR/First Aid etc) Course from Red Cross. I even showed the plan to a social worker who wouldn't officially endorse it but said it was perfect. My kids were taken away for 2 weeks. The only thing that happened was a disgruntled adult who called in and didn't live anywhere near by.
MaryellenJaynes MaryellenJaynes 6 years
I wouldn't leave a 12-13 yo over night or a 16-17yo, that is too long,I would leave a 16yo for a couple of hours at night but no longer, my 10yo for an hour during the day while I get groceries but any longer is not safe, he also knows not to answer the phone or door and will only leave the house if it is on fire, if he does he looses the privlage until the shows he is more responsible and grudgingly has to come with me
ShannonHelton49426 ShannonHelton49426 6 years
I actually called my local Police station to ask if my girls are legally old enough to leave for even short stints. They are 11, 10 and 10. The officer was very helpful and let me know that legally I would not have any problems running a quick day time errand as long as I felt that my children were mature enough and that they knew not to answer the door and what to do in an emergency. He talked me through how to prepare my girls and gave some tips from his personal experience with his own kids who are around the same age. I followed all of his advice and now feel comfortable leaving one or two of them for 10-15 min at a time while I run a quick errand close by. That being said, I would never leave my 11 year old with one of the twins. They fight constantly and together don’t have the maturity to do the right thing. Separate they are fine and the twins together are even better. I still have never left any of them for more than 15 min and have never gone more than ½ mile from the house and don’t know that I would until they are a little older. It’s the natural disasters (we live in Los Angeles, yay earthquakes!) and medical emergencies that worry me.
WendyHays63833 WendyHays63833 6 years
I think this all depends on the child, secondary to state law of course. I have let my 12 year old home for very very brief moments, but they have proved he's not ready as he breaks rules while I'm gone. I can leave my 14 year old home, but never as in charge of the 11 year old, she's not the type that wants the responsiblity right now. My 17 year old, however has been responsible since 12, while his older sister was 15 before she was responsible enough.
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