• Though I try to be omnipresent and stay on top of things, there are always circumstances that make me contemplate leaving my children home alone. Whether they’re sound asleep and I simply want to run to the corner grocery for a gallon of milk or when we have a gap in childcare from the time they finish school to when I get home from work.

    I’ve asked numerous parents in passing and it seems like no one can give me a straight answer as to what specific age is acceptable to leave your kids at home alone.  So, my next avenue was to look up our state’s law so at least I’d have a sense of the legal side of things.  To my surprise, the state of California has no law regarding this issue. And the more I investigated the more I realized that most of the states haven’t set any laws or specific guidelines on this topic. There are a few states that have set a minimum age – this ranges from 8 to 14 years of age, with the most popular age being 12.

    Seeing as my own state was no help on the topic I was back to square one! What to do? As I thought about it I realized that maybe it was better for parents, not states, to decide on the age.  Different children mature and accept responsibilities at different ages. Generally, girls mature at a younger age than boys but that may not always be the case. Also, sometimes a younger child can be more trustworthy and responsible than older ones.

    The bottom line is how can we measure their maturity and level of responsibility to feel comfortable enough to leave them home alone?  Because I have four kids with very different personalities and levels of maturity, I came up with a checklist I use to measure their readiness.  And yes, they have to know ALL of the following:

    • Can they recite their full name, address, and phone number?
    • Do they know what to do in an emergency situation (call 911, etc.)?
    • Can they perform basic first aid (for cuts, abrasions, and minor injuries)?
    • Can they follow your family Safety Plan (if you don’t have one, get one –see Playdate article Family Meeting Agenda)?
    • Do they know how to contact you or another responsible adult?
    • Do they follow basic house rules (friends coming over, not opening the door for strangers, how to, or not to answer phone calls, etc. – see Playdate article Street Smarts)?
    • Do they know how to operate and/or turn off home appliances and security systems?
    • Can they properly care for your family pet?

    If you can answer yes to every one of the above questions then your child’s most likely ready. I started off by doing some short trial runs and using role-play to make sure that they (and I) were comfortable. Remember, emotional maturity is a key factor here as well.  Some kids may talk a big game and then freak out the second they realize you’re gone.  So, take small steps, check up on them and stay in close proximity in the beginning just in case they get scared and need you to return immediately. Ultimately, you’ll build on short successful runs and your child’s good decision-making skills will be your guide.  And in a few years I might add another topic- when are they too old to trust them home alone – because I never want to come home to find the entire school partying to a live performance of Quiet Riot (I’m dating myself here) in my living room!