Posted: Feb 01, 2013 7:00 AM
They’re itching to be left home alone while you run errands close to home or pick up a younger sibling at soccer practice, but is your tween ready? Use this checklist to see where they stand.

Letting your tween stay home alone — even briefly — requires a leap of faith many parents are reluctant to take. Some kids may be mature and trustworthy enough to handle the responsibility, while others may need a bit more time. Some states may have laws about how old a child needs to be before he can be left on his own.

We rounded up some general guidelines to help you decide if your child is ready.


  • Is your child generally responsible with household chores and homework?
  • Does he follow directions well?
  • Is she good at following (and remembering) the rules?

Safety Concerns^

  • How well does your child handle the unexpected?
  • Does she stay calm when things don't go her way?
  • Is your child a risk-taker, or does she generally make good judgments?
  • Does he follow your instructions about talking to strangers?
  • Can your child follow and understand safety measures such as locking the doors and not using the stove?

Skills to practice

If you feel that your child has enough responsibility and understanding for safety issues, it's time to move on to the next step. There are quite a few things we take for granted that your child will need to learn in order to stay home alone.

  • When to call 911: Kids need to know what an emergency really is, how to dial 911 and what information to give them. Quiz them about different scenarios and whether or not they warrant a 911 call or just a check-in with mom.
  • Home security: If you have an alarm system, your child needs to know how to operate the system and what to do if the alarm accidently goes off. Practice locking and unlocking doors with your child. You would be surprised at how many children think they've locked a door, when they actually unlocked it.
  • Incoming calls: Practice with your child what to do if the phone rings. Many people have caller ID, so if the call is from you or a relative you might allow them to pick it up. Ignoring calls and having the answering machine pick up is probably the best option, unless the caller is you.
  • Who's there? Teach your child what to do if the doorbell rings or someone is knocking. While you might teach them to ignore it, they also need to know when it's OK to answer — like if a policeman or firefighter is knocking.
  • Do you smell smoke? Staying home alone also means your child needs to know what to do if he smells smoke. The chances of a fire breaking out are slim, but the consequences can be deadly. Teach him about stop, drop and roll and not to open a door that feels hot to the touch. Show him how to use your home fire extinguisher and where you keep it.

When your child seems responsible enough and eager to stay home alone, do a few trial runs of 30 minutes or less. This helps him, and you, feel more comfortable — and is a good way to make sure you are both ready.

More parenting tweens

How to handle tweens with attitude
Could your tween be depressed?
Like it or not, she's growing up!