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When Can You Leave Your Kids Home Alone?

We’ve all seen the movie, right?

Eight-year-old Kevin McCallister’s parents jump a plane and accidentally leave him stranded alone over the holidays. Two thugs realize his situation and figure his house will be a soft target, but don’t realize that Kevin’s a sadistic mastermind with a MacGyver–esque talent for booby traps.

I still find it amazing that this is the plot of a family-friendly Christmas movie, but anyways, back to my point.

At what age is it okay to start leaving your kids at home alone?

Back in June, I saw that a Florida couple had gotten in trouble because they got caught in traffic and their 11-year-old boy had to wait in the back yard for an hour and a half before they got home.

Apparently, the responding officer had never seen Home Alone, because the couple was arrested, charged with felony neglect, had both of their kids taken away for a month, and had to agree to attend parenting classes in order to have the charges dismissed.

So first off, let’s talk about how to determine whether your child is old enough to be left alone.

For me, it’s more about capability than age. I’ve known 10-year-olds that were responsible and reasonable enough to supervise themselves for short periods of time, and I’ve known 17-year-olds that couldn’t be trusted with a stick of gum. So if you’re trying to decide if your child is ready to be left alone, ask yourself…

• Do they consistently follow the rules?
• Have they got the necessary problem-solving skills to deal with an emergency?
• Can they rationally correlate cause and effect?
• Are they able to provide their name, address and phone number, as well as your contact information?
• Have they proven themselves to be responsible in situations when you were not in the room?

If so, then maybe it’s time to give it a try.

(If not, you should check out Kids:The Manual. It’s a guaranteed system for eliminating problem behavior in kids aged 2-12. There’s my quick plug for today. Now back to the your regularly scheduled program.)

Obviously, you and your child both want to tackle this milestone in small steps, so first off, get prepared. Describe some emergency scenarios and ask them how they would handle the situation. Put together a first-aid kit and show them how to use it. Start a small grease fire in the kitchen and get them to put it out. (I’m kidding! I’m just kidding. Please, don’t start fires.)

This preparation will obviously provide your child with crucial information on what to do in an emergency, but it also helps them to feel confident when being left alone, which is extremely important as well.

So now that you’ve laid the groundwork, go to the neighbor’s place or take a walk around the block for a half an hour and see if your child is comfortable with it. Get them to call your cell and report in while you’re gone.

Assuming all goes well, try running a few errands close to home. Go do your grocery shopping or go to the gym. Just make sure you can get home quickly and are always by your phone.

As you both grow more confident in your ability to handle this new scenario, you’ll be able to gauge and increase the amount of time your child can comfortably be left home alone, and before you know it, you’ll be throwing out your sitter’s number and… brace yourself… going out spontaneously again!

Remember that? From 13 years ago? Leaving the house for the evening without having to plan it two weeks in advance? That’s a thing again! Rejoice!

Now, if I can just shift gears a little here, I’d like to ask all of you, how do you think your kids would handle an emergency if something happened while they were at home alone?

The reason I’m curious about this is because, as a kid, I seem to remember my friends and I being significantly more independent than kids are today. At 12 years old, we were regularly left unsupervised for hours at a time, and we knew (or thought we knew, anyway) how to handle ourselves in a crisis.

It makes me wonder if we’re not raising our kids to be… well, helpless.

Of course, our parents would say the exact same thing about our generation, but I think there’s a lot of validity to that. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories about how our parents were changing their siblings’ diapers by the age of 10, and had full-time jobs at 14.

Obviously we don’t want that for our kids, but I do sometimes worry that they’re not learning the basic skills necessary to look after themselves.

What do you think? Am I just underestimating our kids’ abilities, or are we doing them a disservice by not empowering them at an early enough age? Give me your thoughts in the comments section below.

Oh, and one last tip. Don’t leave a full box of ice cream sandwiches in the freezer before you leave them alone. That’s more temptation than any kid can resist.

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Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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