How to tell if your child is mature enough for independence by being left home alone

Maturity, not age, is the deciding factor

TAMPA, Fla. - Harrison Hirsch is 10 years old. He claims he is ready to stay home alone. He wants to relax, read, have some quiet time to himself. He wants that first taste of independence.

His mother, Ellie Hirsch, is a Tampa parenting expert who runs MommyMasters.com. She admits  her oldest son is "super mature" for his age. But she is concerned Harrison still needs a little a little seasoning, especially if he would need to take care of his two younger brothers.

It's a conversation and debate that often takes place. Is your child ready to stay home alone?

For some parents, especially in the summer, the question has more urgency. They need to work and maybe camps and childcare aren't available at the time.

Dr. Wendy Rice, who specializes in child psychology, says age is not the main factor to consider when dealing with preteen and teen independence at home.

Florida has no set age restriction allowing children to stay home alone.

Instead, says Dr. Rice, it boils down to maturity. If your child isn't responsible and has to constantly be reminded to be smarter in terms of decision-making, they probably shouldn't be left alone.

Ellie Hirsch agrees.

"As a parent, if it doesn't feel right, it's not right. Don't do it," she said.

But the Mommy Master says there are steps to take to both gauge your child's home-alone readiness and how to make them safer (and Mom and Dad not be nervous wrecks). She's started prepping Harrison in terms of safety and responsibility.

  1. Role-play scenarios: What do you do if you're home alone and someone comes to the door? What happens if there's an emergency? What number do you call?
     
  2. Build the trust slowly, in increments. Fifteen minutes alone. Thirty minutes alone. Don't go full throttle at first. Also consider that your child might say they want to be home alone and then get scared when the lonely reality of an empty house sets in.
     
  3. Learn emergency contacts and do's & don'ts. Also set ground rules like no going outside, no cooking on the stove, etc.
     
  4. Assign chores so your child understands the value of time management. That being home alone doesn't just mean watching YouTube on the iPad. How do they respond to following those rules? If they can't, if they're rebelling against the independence you're offering, they're probably not ready.
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