Ask the Parenting Expert

    When is “Home Alone” an Option for Kids?

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    My kids are eleven and thirteen, and they get along pretty well. I think they can stay home alone this summer while I work, but friends and family members have been making me question this decision. What do you think about leaving kids at home alone?

     

    There are many factors that go into this decision. Without knowing if it is a few hours a day or a full day of eight to ten hours, I will address the question as if it is a full day alone. First, I would be curious as to what objections your family and friends have. Have you heard a similar theme? If yes, I would encourage you to really give that area some thought. Sometimes, others see characteristics we have become accustomed to or don’t recognize.

    I would also suggest the following items to consider. How long will they be on their own, and what will be their responsibilities while home alone? I am assuming both your children have been on their own for certain periods of time already. However, being alone after school and grabbing a quick snack is very different than being alone all day and making two meals, plus snacks. Will they be allowed to use the stove to make scrambled eggs or macaroni and cheese? Are there any pets at home that require attention? Would you expect them to do chores around the house? Children who are consistently very responsible in short periods of time are ready to try longer periods of time. If they haven’t stayed home all day by themselves yet, could you do a test-run on a weekend to see how they manage? And definitely have them start doing the chores you would expect them to complete, so if there are questions, you can walk them through the solutions.

    Another factor to consider is support. Who is around for your children if something goes awry? Or, how quickly can you respond to an urgent SOS text? Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, and can be very unsettling for anyone involved. Do you have trusted neighbors nearby if something unexpected occurs? At eleven and thirteen, kids can still be impulsive and reactive. They need support from adults.

    Finally, have you thought about boredom? Being home all day is a lot of unstructured time to fill. How do your children handle their free time now? If your children are used to active schedules, a summer of downtime may sound appealing, but may also lead to boredom before the end of the first week at home. Will the kids be allowed to go outside and play with other children? Can they leave the neighborhood? Will there be a limit on screen-time? What happens if one has an invitation to spend the day at the pool with friends, but your other child isn’t included? These are all things to consider now – before you commit to the summer plans. I do think that their ages are young to have several hours of time without some limits in place. I would encourage you to really think about what you want for your children’s summers and to determine if it’s feasible with
    them home alone.

    For many families, leaving children at home alone while adults work is the right thing to do. I believe it provides opportunities for children to be independent and develop life skills such as laundry, cooking, organization, and time management. I also think children who can find ways to occupy their unstructured time without constant reliance on screens have an independence that will benefit them throughout their lifetime. Financially, it may make a huge difference if your children can stay home alone. However, I encourage you to do what you can to put plans in place to provide a safety net for accidents and other unforeseeable occurrences and to ward off boredom for the children. I hope you and your family have a great summer.