Sibling Sitters: When to Leave Your Kids Home Alone

By Danielle Michels
Two boys home alone having a pillow fight

One of the first steps to independence happens long before driving a car or heading off to college. For both parents and children alike, this step is leaving your kids home alone.

This might be the point where you have nightmarish flashbacks from scenes of the movie “Home Alone.” Or you recall every frightening story you have heard on the news regarding a child being left unattended.

Don’t let your brain’s scare tactics influence your decision.

The fact is, for many children this is the first taste of what it’s like to be a “big kid.” You allowing your child to stay home alone is not a matter of convenience (you could easily get a babysitter or a friend to look out for your child). It’s a moment where you temporarily give your child the reins and he is in control.

When Should You Leave Your Kids Home Alone?

While there’s no set-in-stone rule in Florida legislature on what age your child has to be in order to be left unattended, Florida’s Department of Children and Families suggests not leaving children home by themselves before the age of 12.

“I think that particular parenting decision has a lot to do with the personal responsibility and maturity level of your child,” said Melissa Hutchison, a mother of three children, ages 15, 11 and 8 years old.

“We let our oldest child stay home alone when he was 12. He was also allowed to watch his younger sisters as well, Hutchison said. “They’re never home alone more than two hours. And they know all the rules: don’t answer the phone or open the door, no going outside and no inviting friends over.”

Although Florida’s Department of Children and Families claims that children under the age of 15 are generally not ready for the responsibility of supervising younger children, Hutchison said she looked into a local babysitting course and went by that age requirement as an indicator for deciding when to leave her kids home alone.

According to the American Red Cross, the Babysitting Basics course requires students be 11 years or older. It teaches them to responsibly care for infants and children under the age of 10.

Hutchison said that all of her children have exhibited behavior showing they don’t act on impulse. They understand right from wrong and they follow all of the house rules even when they’re not being watched.

“There has to be a point where you trust them. Take that leap of faith and let your child exhibit his ability to be responsible.”

Safety Tools for Success

A list of emergency numbers

Keep it posted in a central area of the house, where it never gets moved (not on a loose piece of paper), so kids always know where it is.

A fire extinguisher

Make sure kids know where it is and how to use it.

A pre-prepared meal

This will prevent kids from using sharp utensils or turning on the oven/stovetop.

Cell phone

These days, many homes do not have a land line so make sure your oldest child has a cell phone he can have with or near him at all times. Even if it’s not a phone that’s in his possession 24/7, it’s a good way to introduce that new concept of responsibility as well.

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