Every once in awhile it happens. My daughter is knee-deep in an activity, and I have to pick up her brother. Their school is exactly four houses down from me. She used to give me big dirty looks and whine and complain about having to trek back to school to pick up her brother. So sometimes? I leave her home.

Mind you, she’s 5 years old going on 40. She’s never been one to stick her hand in a light socket and other than the probable asbestos in the ceiling, there isn’t a toxic chemical to be found in the house, but giving into her independence for three minutes always feels like I’ll be arrested shortly. My 7-year-old son, however, isn’t someone I’d leave alone. Not because he’s not trustworthy and intelligent enough to know what can be done and what can’t be, but because he feels abandoned when we are just in the next room, let alone three houses down.

Most parenting advice on websites and parenting books suggest the "right" time for leaving kids alone to be between ages 8-12. Before that, children tend not to be fully aware of rational thought, cause and effect, and safety concerns. After 12, leaving them alone might lead to mischief and pregnancy but not usually bodily harm. While some states have specific minimum ages of when a child can be left unattended, most do not. No state has a minimum age under 8. You might want to check what the age is in your state. 

There are quite a few reasons one might want to or have to leave the child at home. Workschedules, the cost of daycare, lack of after school programs, or emergency situations are a few situations. There’s also independence to foster among the children so they know how to be alone and to practice making decisions when needed.

I’ll admit I have it easy in this department. There’s no TV hooked up at our house, no guns and ammo, and a healthy dose of respect for the rural great outdoors and the possibility of mountain lions lurking. Other than my husband’s secret stash of sugary cereal, there’s just not much to damage or be damaged by. The worst thing that usually happens is my laptop winds up with random photobooth photos (such as the one above) that my daughter has  taken when I wasn’t there.

For some parents there’s real stranger danger to deal with as well as potential exposure to sex or violence, and that of course needs to be taken into consideration.

There are quite a few online resources available to parents thinking of trying a moment or hour or two alone:

  • You can sign up for calling services that phone the child at regular intervals and let you know immediately anytime the child does not pick up. This makes me wonder, though why parents can’t just call home themselves?
  • The Daily Parent has some good safety tips and advice on how to assess whether your child can be left alone.
  • Not sure if you are ready to let them go it alone? I took this quiz for both my daughter and my son and both times I scored only 75% readiness for them to be home alone. The quiz is a good reminder to make sure your kids have important phone numbers either memorized or in a set place.

My kid are obviously still very young. I can’t see leaving them alone more than 10 minutes in our quiet low crime hamlet where often the neighbor mom and I are the only ones home in the whole town. If you think your kids are almost ready, it’s good to start preparing them — you never know when you might need to leave them for a few minutes, and you don’t want the first time to be an emergency.

Readers---how young is too young? How old is too old? Have you done it?