How to Know When Your Child Is Ready to Stay Home Alone, Etc.

‘You Want to What?!’

Children’s major developmental stages come with a host of age-appropriate milestones. But that doesn’t mean that your child specifically is ready for them.


By Deirdre Wilson


Girl PleadingFor many parents, it starts with a child’s nagging plea: “Why can’t you let me cross the street by myself?” or “When are you going to let me walk home from school on my own?


It would be so nice if that line of questioning stopped there.


But since parenting is all about “letting go,” prepare for a continuing onslaught of those kinds of questions – up through the teen years: “Can I go to the mall with my friends?”  “Can I get a tattoo?” “Joey and I want to go out on a date alone.”


Grappling with when to let kids take on the world without direct adult supervision has always been a challenge for parents. But the question is more significant today, when the world is rapidly changing and much less secure. You want your child to have the independence you had while growing up, but you also want to protect him from risks that just weren’t there during your own childhood.


Children’s major developmental stages come with a host of age-appropriate milestones. But that doesn’t mean that your child specifically is ready for them.


“Children vary tremendously,” says David Elkind, Ph.D., a renowned child-development expert and author of the landmark book The Hurried Child. “One may be ready to do certain things; another may not be. Parents need to rely on their good common sense.”


That means knowing intuitively whether your child is ready to be safely on her own. “You wouldn’t leave an infant alone, for example,” says Elkind. “And it can be dangerous to let a young child cross the street alone. It takes time and energy to make sure a child really is cautious.”


As parents start to hear those “when can I … ?” questions, teaching them what to expect and how to react in different situations goes a long way toward having confidence about their safety in the world. Here are some basic, age-appropriate guidelines for preparing kids to be more independent, so that you can feel more secure when they do strike out on their own:


MORE How to Know When Your Child Is Ready



Deirdre Wilson is senior editor for United Parenting Publications.

Articles Tools