Is my child ready to stay home alone?

Advice for parents and youth on staying safe while home alone.

A rite of passage for young teenagers is that first time of staying home alone.
A rite of passage for young teenagers is that first time of staying home alone.

Some of the best qualities we can teach our children include being independent, confident and trustworthy. These life skills will be vital to their success in school and as adults, both personally and professionally. A rite of passage for young teenagers is that first time of staying home alone. While it is an incredibly exciting time for kids, it can be a very scary time for adults.

Every child is different. Just because their best friend has been staying home alone for months doesn’t mean it is right for your child. Every scenario is different. Think about the location of your house, the support of your neighborhood and how long you will be gone.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following checklist to consider when making this important decision:

  • Physical readiness. Is your child able to:
    • Lock and unlock doors and windows of your home?
    • Perform everyday tasks such as fixing a sandwich, dialing the telephone and writing messages?
  • Mental readiness. Does your child:
    • Tell time?
    • Understand what “stranger” and emergency mean?
    • Recognize danger and know how to stay safe?
    • Solve small problems on their own, but know when to get help?
    • Consider how their actions affect others?
  • Emotional readiness. Does your child:
    • Feel confident and secure when alone?
    • Seem willing to stay alone?
    • Know how to handle fear, loneliness and boredom?
  • Social readiness. Does your child:
    • Solve conflicts with brothers and sisters with little help from adults?
    • Talk easily to you about what happens at school and about their feelings?
    • Feel confident enough to contact another adult if a problem arises?

Recognizing your child is ready is only part of the equation. Are you, as a parent or caregiver, ready for your child to stay home alone? Your feelings are important also:

  • Do you feel comfortable about your child staying home alone?
  • Are you ready to give your child more independence and freedom?
  • Are you prepared to be a good listener, accept mistakes and try again in the future if the initial attempt is not successful?

As a parent of a teenager, it can be a stressful time when they start staying home alone. They have to be able to remain calm in all situations, know the right thing to do if a stranger comes to the door and be capable of standing up for themselves. How you handle the first few times your child attempts independence will go a long way in building your child’s confidence and lines of communication with you in the future, for better or worse.

Be a good listener and don’t offer solutions at first! Let them offer suggestions on how things will go better next time. This is an ongoing process. Talk regularly with your child to review how well staying home alone is working for both of you. Only five out of the 50 states have legal age restrictions for kids staying home alone. Additional states only have established guidelines on appropriate ages for youth to start staying home alone. Visit Latchkey-Kids for these recommendations and other important information.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the MSU Extension website.

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