Staying Home Alone

I just read Sandy’s guest post for the Yummy Mummy Club about when you can leave your child alone at home.  I thought about just adding a comment to her post but then I thought I would also share my experience on my blog.

When can a child stay home alone? Age, maturity, types of neighbors, how far and how long you are going for, all play a factor for me. As with most parenting issues, I think gut feeling trumps.

First – to review – my kids are 8.5, 7, 5.5 and 4.  We live in a town with about 10 000 people and in a very condensed area which means nothing is more than a 10 minute bike ride away with most things only 5 min. Also, we don’t have laws in Holland about leaving kids under certain ages at home alone.

For a long time I was towing 4 kids around everywhere I went. I mean everywhere. To the swimming pool, grocery store, doctor appointments, you name it – they all came. In my bike.  This explains not only why I’m still exhausted but also why my legs are in really good shape!

I’m trying to remember the first time I left my oldest son alone at home. I think he was 7.  It kind of grew – first by playing outside with a “contact” mother that he could go if there was a problem then slowly it built up to really being alone at home, sometimes with a friend but that very much depended (and still depends) on who.  I call in very often to check that everything is ok and he calls me if he has a question (usually about how long he can use the i-pad!).

My now 7 year old can also stay home alone for a short time though she doesn’t really like being alone. She’d rather come with us (with the exception of grocery time).  The 2 of them also stay home alone together and have a nice time.

I will also admit to leaving my 5 year old with my 7 & 8 year old. Only for quick pick ups (15 min) and occasionally if I’m at the grocery store which is about a 2 min run away from my house.  She knows how to use the phone. She’s with the other 2 but she cannot stay home alone without them.

My youngest begs to stay home. She wants to be “big”.  She may not.

But – I never leave the kids alone if I am driving out of our town and I ask them not to eat. It’s my “thing”. What if they choke?  They are also not allowed to open the door for anyone (and once didn’t open the door for a good friend of mine who I had sent over to get my spare bike key – so that worked!). They know the emergency numbers and there are always neighbors only 2 steps away.

After having read all of the comments on the YMC guest post, I feel like I’m up for a lot of criticism.  But I don’t think I care. If I lived somewhere else, I would likely have different ideas and rules about the kids staying home alone and when and for how long. But I live here. In this village in Holland. Right now.

I’m also a mother that lets her kids cross the main street to get to school and for other after school activities. My 8 and 7 year old have this freedom. With my 7 year old, we repeat the rules for crossing the street before she leaves. She sometimes stands there for 5 minutes, as she’s not allowed to cross if she sees a car.  It’s a zebra path and many cars don’t stop. My 5 year old is practicing – deciding if we can cross when we are biking together. I, obviously, make the final decision.

I hold my breath every single time one of my oldest leaves to go somewhere. I am always very relieved when they are back home.  For me, it’s part of the deal. Letting go.  It’s a never-ending process we have as parents.  The only way for kids to really learn is to be able to do it themselves.

Would I put my 9 year old on a NYC subway like @freerangekids mom did?  I think so. If my child felt he/she was ready and had proved to me in different ways that he could handle the responsibility – yes. I would do it.  We are already talking about him taking the bus to Amsterdam (20 min) to meet his Dad after work. He says he’s not ready – that’s cool. When he says he is we will do it.

So this is my story. What’s yours?

  • Rhonda Scales

    7 & 8 is pretty young.  I am struggling with leaving my 6 year old home with my 13 year while I run out for 15 mins.  I guess its what you are comfortable with…but 8 is still pretty irresponsible!  

  • Kitaboshi

    I think it really depends on the child.  You have to go through rules and precautions.  For example, Do you open the door to anyone if you’re home alone? – No.  Not even if its your best friend or neighbours you know really well.  What do you say if someone asks, “Are your parents home?” – Yes. I know it’s a lie and we teach our children not to lie but you explain the reason behind this lie.

    You also need to leave a few numbers for your children to call either near the phone or on fridge that they can get to quickly if they feel that their safety is being threatened; in other words – scared.  As well as, know the emergency number to call.

    If you, as a parent, go through safety steps that you have set up in your home with the child(ren) every time you plan on leaving them home alone.  You can also review the procedures often so that its fresh in their memory like how schools go through fire and lock down drills.

    You can also try it out with different time spans like, a 2 minute walk to the mailbox (if your neighbourhood uses a community mail box).  10-15 minutes to the babysitters or to pick up something quickly at the drug store or supermarket. 

    It all comes down to how well you think your child(ren) know the safety procedures within your home, how comfortable you are about leaving them home alone and for how long.

    You can always do a test drill with the neighbour and see how well your children did.

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