Parent Guides

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December 31, 1969

I know as a parent, the tween years are just the beginning of when kids change from being sweet darlings most of the time, to tumultuous teens!

The tween years, ages 9-12, are full of changes in your child's physical, mental and emotional growth. These changes can also bring on new responsibilities and possibilities for independence.

When my kids were tweens, such a few short years ago, I had to ask myself a lot of questions.  Do I dare leave them behind after they begged me to stay home alone to avoid having to run errands with me?  Should I leave them home when I need to take their younger sibling to practice? Dare I avoid the eye roll when I ask them to go out to dinner at a "not so friendly" restaurant as a family?

My kids were growing up fast, and I wasn't quite ready for them to spread their wings.

I remember the day my older son found a letter I had written to him, like the tooth fairy, in my saved files on my computer. With its sugary sweet and angelic tone being so believable, he was sure she was real! His look of surprise and disappointment smushed into one facial expression was heartbreaking, but yet a relief.  At age eight, it was probably time that he knew.  Also, I recall the time my younger son, who couldn't live without his blankey, was invited to a sleepover.  The anxiety of leaving blankey behind or the possibility of being embarrassed with it was apparent.  Still, not to forget every Mom's worry, knowing when to allow your children to go into a public restroom by themselves, without you.

Yes, kids grow into tweenhood with gusto, hesitation, and every adjective in between!

And there was that ever-present unease of my parental decision making surrounding the idea of leaving my children home alone for an hour.  Was it even legal?

In the U.S., many states have left that decision up to the children's parents.  "Why"? you may ask. Because different kids grow and mature at different rates. Chronological age does not always represent a child's maturity level.  Granting your children, the space and time at home to practice this independence allows them to extend their responsibilities for themselves, and mature on their own. Furthermore, being home alone doesn't mean being home alone to care for younger siblings. This task takes on a whole new set of responsibilities.

As a nurse, who loves teaching kids, I want to help parents navigate this turbulent and scary decision of deciding when it's the right time to let their children stay home alone. When taking a poll of tween parents, asking them about their fears, many "what-ifs" were expressed.

What is my child opens a door to a stranger? What if my child leaves the garage door open and an intruder gets into the house? What if my child is kidnapped and is used for sex trafficking? What if my child stuffs too many grapes in their mouth and starts to choke? Parent's anxieties, imagined or real, can keep kids from exploring their own capabilities and problem-solving skills. These constant anxieties also limit the parent's ability to run errands or enjoy time on their own to take care of their own responsibilities. Teaching your child how to act when home alone would alleviate these fears and allow you to further explore the possibilities of your day. So, when is the "right time" to start leaving your child home alone?

Consider the ever-growing opportunities for your kids to stay home alone, there are infinite possibilities for personal growth. Your children have the room to mature and learn how to care for themselves while you take that much-needed trip to the grocery store. Before making the final decision of leaving your child home alone for the first time, you should determine a few personality characteristics about your tween.  The first question is, does your child want to be home alone?

  • Are they asking you to allow them this opportunity?
  • Are they usually good decision makers?
  • Do they turn down an opportunity of spending time with friends, knowing they have homework to do?
  • Are they willing to do chores when asked?
  • Are they good problem solvers?
  • Would they know or remember what to do if the power goes out?
  • Are they able to follow simple directions?
  • Do they give you a hard time about following the rules when you are home with them?

Knowing your child and understanding their capabilities is the first step in making progress towards developing children's independence while being home alone.

A few pieces of knowledge your child should know are:

  • How to lock and unlock the doors and windows in your house
  • What safety procedures to follow when coming into the house by themselves
  • How to prevent accidents from happening, or how to administer first aid to themselves
  • Who to call if the dog runs away, or if they feel frightened about a noise coming from the basement

Our free Child Maturity Readiness Checklist will give you insight on your child's overall capability of staying safe while being home alone.  This free checklist is a good start to identifying those skills that may need more attention before the next step, taking our Kidz Home Alone class.