My husband and I have three kids, two of which are almost 13 and 10 years old. For the past year or so, the topic of when to start leaving kids at home by themselves has come up a lot. In Iowa, there is no law that states a specific age you can or can’t leave a child home alone. It is completely up to the parents discretion. Can feel like muddy waters, a little to be honest.
For us, we took so much into consideration when deciding when or if to leave a child home alone.
Child’s physical/emotional maturity level
I feel like parents have to trust their gut on this and are the experts on their own child. Parents JUST know their child’s abilities, strengths, and whether the’d feel comfortable leaving that particular child home alone. I know for us, differences in our children also helped us make decisions- we also had the gut feeling that one of our kids was not ready and would likely burn the house down. Kidding. Kind of. The other one, however, we probably could have left her alone at the wee age of 5 (PROMISE, WE DID NOT) and she would have made herself breakfast, done her laundry, cleaned the house and had dinner on the table ready for us when we got home.
Way to contact you
Does your child know their address, your phone number, another trusting adult’s phone number, and emergency numbers? We don’t have a landline and at the time of considering things, neither of our kids had their own phones. However, they both had Ipads that had messenger so could message us, if needed. But, a way to contact you and an emergency number is obviously an important factor to consider.
Knowledge about Safety
Does your child have a basic understanding of safety? For example- keeping doors locked, not answering the door while a parent is gone, not telling others they are home alone, etc. Knowing when to call a parent for help vs. when it’s an emergency and they should call 911, etc. are also important skills to make sure your child understands before leaving them home alone.
So, you’ve decided to take the big step of leaving your child home alone.. now what?
Take a short, quick trip out. Maybe it’s to pick up groceries from your grocery pick-up line. Or a quick errand. Starting out small and short can help ease into it.
Check in often
Even if you’re only leaving for 10 minutes, check in at first. That also serves as a practice of being available and having their device close.
As your kids get older, the time gone can be stretched a little longer. As you gradually increase the time, the trust and comfortability in it also increases.
Consider rules while you’re gone
We established a few rules and most likely they will change as our kids get older. But starting out, some of our rules included- not going outside, never answering the door, screen time rules, not telling others (friends, included) they were home alone, no cooking, and making sure they have their device close to them so that we could get a hold of them if needed.
BUT. …..MOSTLY- CHEER and wave goodbye as your leave!
WE MADE IT! We made it to the stage where we are even considering this new phase and it feels exciting! To have an older kid that can stay home alone lends itself to new possibilities- maybe more free time for you but also developing a little independence and responsibility in your child. This phase can feel a little scary and bittersweet but it definitely has its advantages.