One of the big events for most kids as they grow up is when they’re first allowed to stay home alone. It’s a mark of maturity and parental trust. The hard part for the parents is deciding when it’s appropriate and for how long.

State Law

The laws on when kids can stay home alone vary from state to state, but most states decline to give an actual age requirement. Many do give recommended ages, which can range from age 8 to 14. Considering that most places kids can start babysitting at age 12, I consider older than that to be overly strict on the state’s part, but that’s what you have to consider when you’re making this decision.

A part of the rules effective in your state will depend on how safe the situation is. Being home alone for a while during the day is very different from being home alone all night.

If you aren’t sure about the guidelines or laws in your state, your local CPS agency can tell you about the the rules they recommend following.

Maturity of Your Child

The simple truth of the matter is that some kids are ready to be left home alone sooner than others. You know your children best and know when they’re ready to be left home alone for short periods and when it’s okay to increase how long you’ll be gone.

You should be confident that your child won’t break any of the rules you set for when you’re gone, such as having friends over, answering the door and so forth. They should also be prepared to deal with minor problems and know what to do in case of an emergency. They should know how to reach you at need. Cell phones are wonderful in this regard, as it makes it much easier for a child to reach a parent who is out and about.

Siblings

A child with older siblings able to watch him or her can stay home without a parent younger than one without older siblings present. A child needing to watch younger siblings will need to be older before being allowed to watch them without parents home. Taking care of yourself and siblings is a much bigger deal than just taking care of yourself.

How Long?

How long are you going to leave your kids alone matters too. You can trust kids while you run a quick errand younger than you might trust them to be alone for a few hours.

They’ll also need to be a bit older if food preparation is required. Snacks may not be so difficult to deal with once rules are agreed upon, but if a meal needs to be prepared, even if just in the microwave, there’s more responsibility required of your child.

What Options Do You Have?

Sometimes you aren’t entirely happy about leaving your child home alone, but you don’t have other options. If your child isn’t ready to be home alone, you will need to find a way to deal with that. You may need to talk to a family member, friend or neighbor about helping you out, or hire a babysitter. Sometimes you can arrange a play date with one of your child’s friends when you need to get out without your child. If leaving your child alone isn’t the right choice, you’re going to have to pick an alternative and make it work.

When it comes right down to it, guidelines or no guidelines, and even state law, you know best when your child is ready to be left home alone and for how long. If you don’t feel your child is ready when the law or guidelines say they can do it, you don’t have to push the matter.