There is no specific age when children are ready to stay home alone because children mature at different rates. It is most important to know if your child feels comfortable being home alone and has the prudence to handle an emergency. Some states have laws regulating the age at which a child may be left at home alone. To find out what (if any) regulations are in your area, contact your local Department of Children and Family (DCF).
Having a conversation with your child is the best way to begin. Listen to his/her feelings and concerns. Starting self care may not be a good idea during a period of increased stressed such as a move to a new home, a divorce or death in the family. Build up hours gradually by leaving your child briefly to run an errand or arranging to arrive home fifteen minutes later than usual from work. With practice you will both be ready for him/her to spend longer periods of time alone and you can plan a regular schedule of self care.
A combination of arrangements may be the best plan for some families. You might enroll your child a couple of days a week in a local recreation or an extended day program. Sometimes exchanging care with another family works well. As your child spends time alone at home, you may want to schedule an activity at least one day a week in order to break the routine of being alone.
There are many important steps you can take to ease your worries and help protect your child while you are not around. Go over the rules of your home including what to do if a stranger comes to the door or if friends want to come over. Decide together what things are “off limits” until a family member comes home and how time alone will be spent. Some families ask their child to check in by telephone. This is both a safety precaution and a way to hear a bit about your child’s day. For many families some kind of central check-in center such as bulletin board is helpful for messages or reminders. Keep a weekly schedule and checklist for your child to use. This routine will help your child feel secure and responsible.
Continually evaluate your arrangements and be flexible. Consider new ideas and change your plan if it does not work. Talk often with your child. Together you can build on your child’s ability and confidence in handling self care.