Divorced, married or separated, most working parents run into obstacles, issues and financial burdens providing quality childcare for their minor children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 26% of children under 21 live in single parent households, typically due to divorce. While the obstacles can be greater for the single parent, two-parent homes run into the same problems, because two-parent homes frequently have two working parents. All parents encounter the same childcare concerns and struggle to fill every second with trustworthy and experienced care and supervision for their children.

There are those moments, especially as your children get older, when you need to (gasp)…leave them home alone! I have mediated this issue with some couples while they navigate new parenting and living arrangements. The big question for all parents… How old does your child have to be to leave them home alone? As of right now, the State of New York has no laws stipulating when a child may be left home alone. The decision is left to the discretion of parent(s) but you, as the parent, may be held legally responsible if anything happens to your children while you are not home.

According to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, “All children develop at their own rate, and with their own special needs and abilities. Some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age. Likewise, there are some teenagers who are too irresponsible or who have special needs that limit their ability to be safe if they are left alone.”  You know your children better than anyone does – trust your intuition, good judgment and knowledge about your own kids and their ability to take care of themselves in your temporary absence. The same determination may be made for an older sibling as the babysitter. A child who may be able to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age may not be mature enough to babysit for a younger sibling. It all depends on the circumstances and the individual children. Families may also seek advice from a school social worker or family therapist to help make the determination of whether a child may be left home alone or not and/or if they are mentally and emotionally prepared to look after their siblings.

Leaving your kids home alone encourages independence but it may also be scary for certain children. The key to reducing their fear and safely leaving kids home alone is careful preparation and risk management. Once you determine that you may leave your child or children alone, you can start the process out slowly. Begin with making short trips to the gas station, the dry cleaner, a coffee run, etc. and then let the trips get longer and longer each time. Many safety and security measures may be implemented to provide you and the kids with comfort each time they are left alone. Lock all doors and windows, draw all curtains and shades, the outside lights should be on and the security system, if any, should be activated. No one comes in, no one leaves and no food delivery. Leave emergency phone numbers and teach the kids, all of them, when and how to dial 911 and the information they need to provide to the operator. Do not permit use of dangerous items like knives, matches or appliances. They should not answer the door or the phone – period. There are many apps out there allowing you to track your children with their phones (you pay for those phones…). You are able to see if they left the house and where they went as long as they have their phone with them.

Perhaps after leaving them alone successfully a number of times, you may permit small freedoms like letting them play in the backyard, but not the front, depending on their age and the visibility from the street. Children will surprise you with their ability to manage change and make good decisions if given the opportunity. Leaving kids home alone can be a positive experience that builds their self-esteem and helps them grow into independent, self-reliant adults.

…the more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves.    ― Roald Dahl

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