Home alone

Your daughter is 11 years old and insists she is old enough to stay home alone. With the summer months approaching, how do you know if she is ready for this big step?

Staying home alone is often the first way older children are able to show their independence. But it can be hard for parents to know when their children no longer need constant supervision.

An age of reason

Age can help you know whether your child is ready to stay home alone, but it shouldn’t be the only factor in your decision, says Susan Bowles, RN, a community education instructor at St. Louis Children’s Hospital who teaches Staying Home Alone, a class for parents and children.

“Some 10-year-olds are mature enough to stay home by themselves, while others aren’t,” Bowles says. “It’s better to look at your child’s ability to follow rules and take care of herself. Another important sign is whether your child uses good judgment in everyday situations.”

Setting some ground rules

Once you feel your child is mature enough, establish basic guidelines.“There should be good communication between kids and parents,” Bowles says. “Set very clear rules and make sure your children understand them.”

When you’re setting those rules, ask yourself the following questions:Does your child know what to do 
if a stranger knocks on the door?
Should he or she answer the telephone? 
If so, what should he or she say?

Whom should he or she call in case of an emergency? Does your child have a list of important phone numbers?

Also, teach your child basic safety practices, such as not using the oven or sharp knives. Take advantage of controls on your computer and television that limit the websites she can visit and the programs she can watch.

“Make sure your expectations are very clear,” Bowles advises. “When kids are in school, they are in a very structured environment. If they go home and are by themselves, the structure isn’t there — that can cause issues.”

The test run

To help both you and your child get used to the idea, start with leaving him or her home during the day for a few minutes at a time. For example, take a 10-minute walk around your neighborhood while your child stays home, or run a short errand that you know will take no more than 20 minutes.

Also, don’t allow him or her to watch other siblings during your first few test runs—that step can come later.

When you get home, talk about how the test run went, and get a sense of how well he or she followed the rules you set. As you both get more comfortable, you can start to leave your child alone for longer periods.

The St. Louis Children’s Staying Home Alone class can help prepare both children and parents for this big step in life and determine the child’s readiness.

Cost of the class is $25/family.

To register, call St. Louis Children’s Hospital at 314-454-KIDS (5437) or toll-free at 800-678-KIDS.

Upcoming dates and locations

  • Saturday, June 4: 9:00 am to 10:30 am, Missouri Baptist Medical Center, 3015 North Ballas Road
  • Saturday, June 11: 10:00 am to 11:30 am, Crestwood Community Center, 6245 Whitecliff Park
  • Wednesday, June 22: 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm, Wildwood City Hall, 16860 Main Street
  • Saturday, July 9: 9:00 am to 10:30 am, Belleville Memorial Hospital, 4700 Memorial Drive
  • Saturday, July 16 9:00 am to 10:30 am, Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway
  • Saturday, August 13: 9:00 am to 10:30 am, Children’s Specialty Care Center 13001 N.Outer Forty
  • Wednesday, August 24: 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm, Spencer Road Library, 427 Spencer Rd, St. Peters