Home alone?

When is the right time to leave a child home alone? There is no law on the matter, so I guess it’s down to the parents and the child. You know when your child is ready and so do they. You don’t rush into leaving them all day – you start off small and work up gradually.

I still remember the horror that was dragging three kids with me wherever I went – the shame of boys fighting in the peaceful little girls’ worlds of Rainbows and ballet – in front of parents who probably didn’t have big boys, certainly not two of them. Then one day, a couple of years ago, I just stopped taking them. Suddenly the time felt right. My son was in year 7 and 11 and a bit.

It wasn’t long after I felt happy to leave my eldest alone, that I then felt comfortable to leave him at home with his younger brother for short periods of time. For another year or so I dragged my younger son to ballet, but now I leave the two of them together for an hour. I will leave my eldest for two or three hours – as long as he has his phone and his key. He will often take himself off to Grandma’s or to his friend’s house while we’re out watching his brother play football. Or sometimes he will just stay at home and enjoy the uninterrupted time in front of a game or the telly, without anyone moaning at him.

My younger son has got used to not having to go to dance lessons with me any more. He likes his bit of freedom with his brother. But then last week, his brother changed the game. He announced he was going to his friend’s house after school.

What would I do?

Could I leave my younger son?

Or would I have to take him?

My son is still only 10 (although very nearly 11) and in year 6. He is mature, sensible and grown up. In reality, he is way more grown up, trustworthy and reliable than his brother. BUT HE’S ONLY 10.

I thought about it carefully, and I knew I had to take him with me. The time isn’t quite right just yet. If it had just been nipping to school to pick my daughter up, that would probably have been OK. But it was going to school to pick her up, then driving to dance lessons and dropping her off. I would be out of the house for nearly half an hour.

My son wasn’t happy.

‘But what could go wrong?’

In honesty, probably nothing. But what if?

What if he opened the door to a stranger who abducted him? What if he fell down the stairs and knocked himself out/ broke a limb/ died? What if he turned on the hob and set the house on fire?

I KNOW these things wouldn’t happen. But I also know that at 10 he’s just that little bit too young to leave. Give it a few months, when he’s 11 and nearing the end of year 6, I will probably do it. But not just yet. If anything happened to him because I left him I would never forgive myself.

So I dragged him out and put up with his sulking. Because that’s way better than a broken limb, an abduction or a burnt-down house. Right?

Author: Sarah Mummy

Share This Post On

27 Comments

  1. It’s hard to know when the right time is and I think it depends wholly on the child. I don’t think I was left alone in the house until I was in year 7 at school. Good call. I hope the sulking didn’t last too long! X

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks very much, he wasn’t too bad! Hope I don’t have to drag him out often though. Year 7 feels right to me, but I may relent a little earlier as he’s one of the oldest in his year.

      Post a Reply
  2. You definitely did the right thing. Better having him sulk than coming back to a burned down house. Obviously that wouldn’t have happened but I think like that too (not that I’ve considered leaving z yet ;))

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks very much. Exactly! So unlikely to happen, but why take the risk? (And very pleased you’re not considering it with Z!)

      Post a Reply
  3. We are exactly at this stage with the boys now 11 and 12. We leave them for short periods but do take them if we are to be away for any length of time. As to when you can do this, I think it is entirely up to the family and the child.

    Post a Reply
    • It certainly is! I have no qualms about leaving him with his brother, but on his own just seems a little bit early yet.

      Post a Reply
  4. I’m still in the stage where I have to take everyone, everywhere, so can totally empathise. I think you made the right decision. xx

    Post a Reply
    • It’s a pain having to do that! I’m so glad I don’t have to do it much any more, it makes life so much easier.

      Post a Reply
  5. Totally understand your predicament, Sarah! My ‘rule’ is once they are at secondary school. Sure enough, DD started secondary this Sept and I gave her a key and leave her at home when we take my son to football on a Monday. She’s alone for about an hour and a half. Funnily, last year she insisted on coming with us, but now she seems happy. She has her phone, the TV and computer to get on with homework (though I log her out of Facebook!). So far it’s worked fine. I think just a litte bit longer and your son will be okay x

    Post a Reply
    • I think he will! Thanks very much. An hour and a half sounds like a reasonable length of time to leave them for – and it does make life easier without having a kid tagging along who doesn’t want to be there and moans the whole time!

      Post a Reply
  6. I think our ten year olds are right on the cusp of being ready – I offered mine the chance to stay home the other day (he is 11 in 3 weeks), he was home from school with a stinking cold and I had to go pick up his brother from pre-school – I would be out of the house for 20 minutes. After some deliberation Max decided he wanted to come with me, he doesnt feel ready yet., and it is important for them to be part of the conversation too. I seem to remember from when Betsy was young that it was something that built up over time – starting with ten minutes here and there, then an hour while we were at the supermarket, and by the time she was thirteen for a whole afternoon or somesuch. Took until she was 16 for her to stay home alone overnight tho!

    Post a Reply
    • I think there’s plenty of adults who can’t mention home alone overnight! It’s good that Max was able to make his own decision – he obviously knows when he’s ready. We’ve built up with my eldest just like you did with Betsy. Now we’ll have to do it all over again with his brother!

      Post a Reply
  7. I remember discussing this with friends recently and I really think it depends on the child so much. I seem to recall when we were children there was a lot of talk about it being legal to leave them from 10 years old onwards. Having said that looking back I cannot believe that people used to leave me their small children to babysit when I was just 14!!!! I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable leaving mine with a 14 year old. Great post. I love that you are trying out all these older child parenting situations before I get there so I can pick your brains when the time comes 😉

    Post a Reply
    • I was babysitting two when I was 14 too! …I’m not sure I’d leave mine with a 16yr old even! …Mostly because I don’t think they’d manage the chaos – but the kids would probably all be little angels with a ‘kid’ babysitter 😉

      Post a Reply
    • Ha ha, thanks. You’ll know all the little hurdles of growing up from reading my blog! I think 10 does seem rather young, unless it’s literally for 10 minutes. It’s crazy that people would leave their kids with someone so young – I think I babysat from 15 and was mainly interested in how many snacks I could eat and having a television to myself!

      Post a Reply
  8. This really is such a big decision to make isn’t it? I leave my eldest two alone for up to 2 hours but not my youngest just yet. He moans like crazy but I just don’t feel that he’s read (although he would probably not move from the playstation!). I am now in the privileged position of being able to leave all three of mine to go out for a few hours in the evening and it really is a new lease of life – I feel a blog post coming on!

    Post a Reply
    • Leaving all three together sounds amazing! My daughter is about 18 months younger than your son and my eldest a year or so younger than your eldest, so I think we’ve got just a little bit longer to wait before I would feel confident doing this. I think you just know when the time is right and I don’t think I’m quite there with my younger son.

      Post a Reply
  9. I LONG for the day I’ll be debating this 😉
    …Lots to do with culture too! Our neighbors 11 year old often picks up his 5 year old sister and takes her home with him. If they’re home for an hour by themselves – they don’t think it’s a big deal… He’s EXTREMELY calm, responsible and reliable… But I don’t think all 11 year olds are!

    Post a Reply
    • Wow, that’s impressive! Being on his own for an hour sounds just about OK, but in charge of a 5 year old?! That sounds scary! I wouldn’t leave my 8yo daughter with her 13yo brother for more than about 20 minutes.

      Post a Reply
  10. I’m sure a parenting expert has concocted a slide rule that will calculate at what age any kid is fit to be left alone. I like your method – by feel. Even outside of the physical dangers, I consider how they behaved when left alone, my three girls. If we ask them to unload the dishwasher while they’re alone, they’d better do it. I better not come home to find food all over the couch and floor. And they better not break stuff.

    Otherwise … next time, they’re coming with.

    Post a Reply
    • I would worry about whether my kids would fight! I think they would be OK, they would probably be better behaved than when I was at home, but definitely better to do it on instinct.

      Post a Reply
  11. I know how you feel Sarah, my son is 11 and we have not left him home alone yet. With having 4 children we always have at least one of the older ones in to look after the smaller 2, which is good 🙂

    Thanks for linking up 🙂

    Post a Reply
  12. I think that the whole reason there’s not a legal age is because each child is different, and you know your own child.

    Post a Reply
    • Very true! Thanks very much.

      Post a Reply
  13. Good discussion – and the fact that whilst there is no legal age yet you always retain parental responsibility is a tough one. It’s particularly difficult here as my 12 years old is in many ways mature but since he has ADHD and ASD giving him the same freedoms his friends enjoy has been a tricky problem to navigate! Visiting via #weekendbloghop

    Post a Reply
    • That must be a tough one! I still don’t have an answer, but I think I’m not ready to leave my son just yet.

      Post a Reply
  14. Interesting post. I think the right age to leave a child alone has to be based on an assessment of risk which will always vary depending on the maturity of the child. I also factor in distance from home, so I may leave my 9 year old home for 5 minutes while I drop my son at school because she is very mature and also because I could run home in 10 minutes if my car broke down or something. Before I’d have to wake her at 7.30am
    during her school holidays to drag her with me.

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: