4 Ways to Prepare Your Child to Stay Home Alone

preparing your child to stay home alone"
preparing your child to stay home alone
Source: Canva
Source: Canva

So much of parenting is preparing ahead of time for the next milestone before it arrives. My oldest daughter is nearing her tween years, so we’ve already made it through the big babyhood and early childhood milestones—walking, talking, losing teeth, riding a bike, starting school. The next ones to face are the ones around slowly granting more and more independence, including the milestone of staying home alone.

As I start to think about when she will be ready for this milestone, I am considering her maturity and comfort level when deciding upon the right age. For those in some U.S. states, though, it’s not fully up to the parent’s judgment—there is a legal minimum age to reach before a child can stay home alone.

When can a child stay home alone?

It’s no secret kids mature and develop on different timelines, however, some states have legal limits for children staying home alone. Some state limits are based on fire code, some states only offer guidelines, and the age limit varies across the country. For example, children must be 14 to stay home alone in Illinois by law, while Kansas offers age 6 as the guideline. For the remaining states with legal limits and guidelines, the age minimums range from ages 6 to 12. Of course, we recommend checking your city and state’s specific laws and guidelines before leaving a child home alone.

The states with minimum legal ages to stay home alone are:

The states with age minimum guidelines to stay home alone are:

In the remaining states, it is up to the parents to discern. I live in one of those states, so it’s up to me to make this tough parenting decision based on if she seems ready. I’ll also use states with legal minimum ages as a general guideline, which average out to 10 years old. This happens to be the age my daughter turns on her next birthday, so I am preparing her now for this milestone so that she’s ready when the time comes, whether it be by her next birthday or the following one.

How I’m preparing my child to stay home alone

With clear direction and intention, you can feel more at ease about preparing your child to stay home alone. Here’s how I am planning to get my child ready for this milestone as it gets closer.

1. Review what to do in case of an emergency 

My daughter has a cell phone so that she can contact me and her dad when she is at activities and so we can share locations. She has additional emergency contacts in her phone as well, including family and local friends that she knows she can reach out to if needed. Before the first time alone, we’ll also review calling 911, make sure she can quickly recite our address, and reach out to a few households on our street as places she can go if she absolutely needs to get out of the house for help. 

Her dad and I will ensure she can carry out all the appropriate steps on her own in case of a fire. We will run through an escape plan from the basement, first floor, and second floor of our house and where to go for safety once she is outside. We’ll also review how to stay as safe as possible while exiting the house. This includes staying as low to the ground as possible (since smoke rises) and not stopping to grab anything, no matter how important that item may seem.

preparing your child to stay home alone
Source: Canva

2. Discuss social media safety 

Kids are bound to feel a little more adventurous when they know there isn’t an adult around. With that in mind, we will also be sure to review what is the appropriate use of her phone and school Chromebook. Her devices have strong parental controls, but it’s still important to keep the conversation active. Parental controls can’t protect against everying, so we will discuss what is allowed—and not allowed— on the internet and social media.

3. Review the rules and expectations explicitly

“No one comes in, and no one comes out once I’m gone” is still drilled into my brain as my mom’s rule for when I was home alone. The exact same rule will be carried into our household, along with the reminder to not answer the door, even if you think you know who it is. Once she’s alone, she stays indoors, and no one else enters unless it’s a parent returning home. 

The expectation is also that all doors stay locked. While she is still new to being alone, there will be no cooking (if you’re hungry, grab a snack from the pantry) and no showers or baths. We’ll review these expectations, multiple times and very explicitly, along with the reminder that all regular household rules still apply even when parents are not home. Broken rules will have a natural consequence: we’ll take away the privilege of staying home alone.

4. Start close to home, at first

The last step is to put all the preparation into practice. When we feel like she is ready, we will start with short lengths of time while we are close to home just running a couple of errands during the day. We will be sure to check in frequently to make sure she is still feeling comfortable. We’ll also check in on how everything went and whether or not the rules and expectations were followed once we get home.

Once your child gets through the early milestones, you get to the nerve-wracking ones of their pre-teen and teen years as they build more independence. It’s natural that preparing your child to stay home alone can activate fear. However, it’s important to slowly prepare them for doing more and more on their own so that they are ready once they move out on their own one day. Of course, the importance of it doesn’t make the process of it any less worrisome for a parent. With a clear set of expectations and frequent check-ins with your child, though, the process of preparing for adulthood can be easier.

What Parents Should Consider About Kids’ Sleepovers
Discover More