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Brian And I Went On A “Date” And Left The Kids Alone For The First Time. Here’s How It Went…

Helping our kids feel independent and develop autonomy during Covid has obviously been hard. We are alone, together. Up next in the post-Covid emotional roller coaster is the oh so fun ‘separation anxiety’ segment of this ride making the move to Oregon harder (what with the rental house + new school + making new friends). But these kids are craving independence and at 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 we are starting to trust them (as much as I think you can). They seem to be making good decisions without us – we can overhear them, we get a sense of it all. So we decided to let them have the house to themselves while we went on a “date”. We talked about it all week, they had to show us extra good judgement, show us how they would call us in emergency (we would give them one of our phones as we don’t have a home phone) and promise to just make themselves sundaes and watch a parent approved show.

They were ABSOLUTELY giddy with excitement and couldn’t stop talking about it the whole week. They are such a team and nothing makes us happier than them plotting without us – not against us but with eachother. I’m a big free range parent advocate (for our family, you do whats best for yours) and after years of “helicopter deprogramming” Brian is now, too. I’ve read a lot of articles, listen to podcasts, etc, about treating kids older than they are when it comes to responsibility – giving them more than you think they can handle, (or than is convenient to you) which helps them grow their confidence and independence. One thing I chant internally all the time that I learned from a child psychology podcast (as you do) was “competance = confidance”. Remember that one – I didn’t coin it but of course that makes sense. It’s the same as us – as grown-ups. Achieving makes you empowered to try to achieve more and thus you feel proud of yourself = confidence. I can see it with all the more complicated chores that we do around the house. It’s a battle, truly, but they feel so good after they wash, dry, fold and put away all their laundry and I’ve even heard them tell their friends on the portal about their laundry – so proud of themselves. Listen, we have lots of problems, and we don’t push our kids academically (um … they are still being “homeschooled”) and often I worry that we don’t know how to discipline because we are both so soft, but yes I do ask them to perform life tasks beyond their years including cooking, cleaning and now babysitting themselves. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I’m still learning my totally weird parenting triggers, patterns and quirks and some are NOT GOOD (like since I was raised/ingrained to never yell I end up getting so frustrated that I’ll start crying and throw a stuffed animal SO HARD in a way that I think disturbs us all, including the animal and then I have to apologize and we all cry and its SO DUMB). We ware a product of our parenting and environment. Everything we do and learn beyond that or against that is really, really hard work.

Anyway, it was a Sunday night and they finished their chores and bath so they are allowed a big old sundae after dinner while we watch a movie. We told them that we’d be back in 2 hours. If they needed anything they can call us obviously. They thought we were going to this lake viewing area that is walking distance from our house, with a glass (or two ) of wine. BUT the truth is that it was kinda cold and Brian and I just wanted to watch a grownup movie in bed together (not like that, I think we watched two episodes of Lupin . So we said goodbye, then snuck around the side of the house, took the back stairs up to our bedroom, took off our coats and laid down. Then we heard screaming …

… LIKE A FRAT PARTY. They blasted the music. They were dancing while making sundaes. They were squealing in delight or more likely the primitive sounds of the first feeling of independance. I still remember my first car ride to the beach with 16 year old friends – I could still describe the way the wind smelled. They took like 50 photos with my phone of their sundaes (I get that) until they settled in to watch Onward. We heard them let the dogs out over the next two hours and heard their dishes clank in the sink when they were done. Brian and I kept looking at each other with that knowing glance that only parents do when reflecting on the collective joy and relief that is parenting. We didn’t mess it up and IT WAS SO CUTE.

After 2 hours we put our coats and shoes back on, walked around the house and came through the front door. Their movie was over. The dishes were in the sink, not the dishwasher but pretty close! We praised them a ton for how responsible they were, how much we now know we can trust them again, etc, etc. It was honestly such a WIN WIN. While we weren’t at a restaurant there was something really seedy and special about us just watching a movie in bed at 6pm on a sunday without them knowing. Perhaps we needed to feel a little independent and autonomous, too. Funny how that works.

They are begging to do it again and while I don’t think I’m ready to actually leave them while we go to dinner (especially without a home phone) we might try a trip to the market, or both of us take the dogs for a long walk. Baby steps – for them and for us. All in all I’m excited to get a home phone, teach them more about strangers and answering the door (or NOT!) and going on an actual date. But for now, the walk, the drive, the fake bedroom movie session did something for all of us that I think we needed during quarantine and we will absolutely be doing again.

Now I know a lot of you are going to say that you left your kids at a young age in the 80’s (we were left all the time), but with the rise of helicopter parenting (due to the media and societal pressures) it’s not so common practice now (don’t let me get started on this). I know that it absolutely depends on your kids maturity and frankly where you live (up here we feel super super safe where we might not in a big city). So I’m curious about current parents and how old your kids were when you started leaving them alone? But from that positive experience we are pretty into giving the kids more freedom when they show us they can handle it….

Opener Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria Tramp | From: Keeping The Good Of Last Year: New Family (And Kid-Only) Activities – Plus The Value Of “Me” Time


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180 thoughts on “Brian And I Went On A “Date” And Left The Kids Alone For The First Time. Here’s How It Went…

  1. Good for you! I always imagined letting my kids stay home alone when the oldest is of phone-owning age. For now, our kids, 8 and 5, are allowed to take walks around the block together. As children, my brother and I were home alone all the time due to having a single mom with 2 jobs while attending grad school. I always say that made us more ready for independent life than any of our friends.

  2. Great way to test the waters! Unfortunately my two boys (8 and 9 – with ADHD) definitely cannot be trusted home alone yet. Or at least, I’m not ready to trust them! But we let them walk to school and back alone, and my more responsible youngest has walked to the supermarket to buy something alone a couple of time recently. Parents know what their kids are ready for.

  3. No shaming here. This is such a cool idea and I can’t wait to try a close by version of this with my kids- maybe in the yard- but I encourage you to look at your endangering/neglect laws in your state and see if this is a violation of that. In my state, someone was arrested for a criminal offense for leaving their kids alone at home (oldest kid was older than yours) for one hour.

  4. I love the idea of giving all independence possible, but it does seem to me that kids under at least 11 should not be left alone. They can handle regular things fine, but if there is a fire or accident or some other disaster, they’re too young to handle it. We’ve been talking about leaving the kids with an 11 year old neighbor and hanging out down the block but I wouldn’t go farther away than that because of potential emergencies- unlikely to happen, but catastrophic if they did.

    1. Where does the random number 11 come from?
      Children of the past did an incredible amount and were fabulously independent.
      Instead of catastrophising, planning and explaining how to deal with things should unexpected events happen will instill confidence and self-esteem. They learn to be resourceful and proud of themselves.
      My friend’s 8 year old does more than my partner’s 15 year old sister who will enter adulthood incapable and unable to look after herself and leave her vulnerable to the big bad world.

      1. I don’t know how this person picked 11, but I took a child development class and kids do not have abstract thinking or advanced problem solving skills until age 12. So I would probably not fully leave them alone until then. This kind of experiment while the parents are home and able to monitor seems like a good way to start to teach independence though.

        1. I don’t see a problem with leaving kids younger than 11/12 home for shorter periods of time.

          My mom did it frequently while going to the store quickly for milk. We had many neighbors that knew us and would watch out for us, who we could ask for assistance in a true emergency.

          It’s scary to give children independence but I’m so glad Emily wrote this article because it ends up being a disservice to children to deny them responsibility and trust.

        2. To piggyback off Jess, yes to starting to teach independence in creative ways! I think most parents can find ways to do this, whether or not they actually are totally alone. Our family just got done renovating a house while living in a trailer on the property. We would leave the kids alone in the trailer while working on the house that was literally across the driveway. It’s incredible how much independence our 7-and under kids felt and how much responsibility they took on in that time. I LOVE the secret movie watching that Emily and Brian did.
          There are times when kids have to be that independent from the earliest age. But if they don’t HAVE to be, give them the feeling, the responsibility, in ways that allow for extra protection.

        3. You are absolutely right! It comes down to brain development. They are too young to understand consequences in the same way a 12 year old does. A boys brain doesn’t get that development until even older! The saddest thing is that a white family can discuss this free range idea while black mothers are arrested for it!

          1. Thank you for saying this. I actually work for the Child Protective Services agency in my state and the disproportionate number of families of color who enter the Child Welfare system for reasons such as this is truly ridiculous. What’s more, the lack of available and affordable childcare forces many low income families to make decisions like this not as a fun experiment of granting their kids autonomy, but in order to work, pay bills and put food on the table. There’s such a range of what kids are capable of, what’s culturally appropriate, what society deems safe… the fact that the state has once-size-fits all rules is ludicrous. Don’t get me wrong, protecting children from true neglect is of utmost importance, but we have really gone beyond the pale with these laws and our uneven enforcement of them.

        4. 12 is just when critical thinking begins, but it is by no means fully developed. I also believe that with a set of clear rules and procedures, kids younger than 12 can begin to develop independence. Child development gives averages, so looking at individual children’s readiness is essential.

      2. I picked 11 because it was a lot older than 8 – there’s no magic number. I talk to my 6 year old about what to do in case of a fire and other potential emergencies, but I’m a catastrophe there’s no amount of practice that prepares you – and a 6 year olds life experience probably isn’t enough to stay calm and make sure her little sister gets out. There’s a big different between responsibility and independence and dealing with rare, intense, and life threatening events.

      3. The American Academy of Pediatrics list 11 or 12 as the appropriate age to leave a child home alone and for no more than 3 hours. It comes down to brain development. Some states have laws, such as Oregon, where it is 10 years old. So Emily should definitely be aware of that after her move.

      4. 11 may not be conservative enough in some states. It is important to know your state’s laws and the definition of neglect in your child protection code before you make any decisions about leaving you child home alone.
        While there is certainly room for policy debate, not knowing this information could lead to problems if you leave your child alone and there is an accident or neighbors report an issue.
        For example:

        1. I’m all independence for children but you must know your state’s laws. Where we live it is 12 years old.

        2. In Maryland it is illegal to leave children under the age 8 at home alone and in Oregon the age is 10 or younger.

      5. I assumed they picked 11 because the state of Oregon (for better or worse, not stating my pov on the topic) has a law restricting parents from leaving children under the age of 10 unattended. I’m not sure if length of time is a factor but you can read about it online, it’s ORS 163.545.

        I thought the Henderson’s date night sounded like a lot of fun for everyone! We went on our first real date after getting vaccinated (our oldest is driving age so no babysitter required) and it was such an odd mix of feelings. Who knew doing such normal things would feel so strange post pandemic!?

    2. I think it really depends on your kids and how you prepare together. As a child of the 80s, my sister and I were left home together during the day starting around 7 and 8 (always as a team, we were very responsible together.) We had a really good relationship with a bunch of our neighbours who were home during the day. We actually did have a kitchen fire once, and we followed the plan exactly as we were taught, we left immediately, went to the neighbors, who called the fire department, no serious injury or property damage resulted. Everything was fine. I’m not saying every parent is going to be comfortable with this, but the right kids with the right temperament can be trusted. I think it does help when it’s siblings close in age who behave like a team, collectively they can be more responsible sometimes.

    3. I was babysitting (even at night!) by 11…and that wasn’t even that long ago. I even babysat a 3-month old baby for short periods of time (1-2 hours, parents were within walking distance) when I was 10. I agree not all 10 or 11 year olds are ready for that (I teach 5th graders, and there are some I would definitely NOT leave alone…and others that I would trust to watch my own kids), but some are.

      1. I was 10 when I started babysitting other kids (in the early 90s)! And I was a great babysitter! Honestly, it depends on maturity of the child…but their maturity also comes from the responsibility and trust you give them. So I think it’s great that Emily is starting this early.

      2. Yes, I was babysitting at 11, in the 90s. It’s crazy to me now! I generally did fine, but that’s like my dad saying he was fine not wearing a seatbelt when he was a kid. (In both situations, nothing serious happened — we were just lucky.) I won’t hire a babysitter under the age of 16.

        I don’t think there’s a hard and fast age at which a kid can be left alone. It depends on so many variables, including yes, as others have noted, race/class.

      3. I was babysitting my neighbors’ infant in the 90s the when I was 11 too. For about 3 hours, the parents were not in the area, but my mom was (usually) across the street. To the extent I am overly protective of my kids now, it’s because of current social norms and laws that weren’t around when we were kids. In a related topic, I think we have lost a lot by kids no longer exploring their surroundings without parental supervision. As kids, we would be gone for hours and come back for dinner, and we learned a lot of independence and problem-solving skills that way.

  5. Ha! We definitely want our son to be independent- but he doesn’t want to!
    Your describtion sounds super cool and fun and like a great way to boost their egos. Way to go!

  6. It’s so interesting to me how perspective changes things – NYC dweller here, and my 11yo has been staying alone for periods for a year or two (and sometime with either/both of her younger siblings, often due to COVID logistics). I feel way safer doing it in a city – she’s surrounded by neighbors, and could very easily find someone to help if needed. Definitely NOT saying one location actually IS safer than the other, just interesting how to a city person the less people in the “country” might seem less safe – for example, I have purposefully trained her to walk on the bigger, more crowded streets if she’s walking alone.

    1. Agreed! I’m currently in the suburbs and childless, but I would definitely feel safer in the city than in the country. As a former New York City dweller, I agree! Neighbors definitely look out for each other. Even if they are the biggest jerk, their presence is part of your safety net somehow.

    2. Yes I completely agree! I used to nanny in NYC and parents would leave their kids alone all the time. One parent said she’d leave her toddler napping and take the baby monitor to a cafe next door. I think especially in buildings with doormen, parents can feel like they have a built in security guard.

    3. OMG this!! I grew up in the middle of nowhere and would always PANIC when my parents would leave me alone. I felt so isolated. Now, as an adult, I live in the city and I feel so much better about leaving my kiddo. It also helps that a few of our neighbors are in the medical field and would be able to help immediately in case of an emergency!

  7. I love this idea and needed to hear it. You inspired me this morning to let my 7 year old make breakfast for her and her brother. Baby steps.

  8. So cute! Our kids are 9 and 7 and we leave them home alone frequently, usually for 2 hours or less but running our own business during Covid sort of forced us to at times. We live in a great historic pocket where our kids bike and roller blade and roam the streets! You definitely know your own kids and know when it’s right and if they can be “trusted”! Good for you guys!

  9. What a great idea! We are just getting to that point with our 8 and 5 year old too. Feel like in the next year it will be time. One thing I try to keep in mind is… would I want the responsibility put on our 8 years old if something happened to his younger sibling while in his care.

  10. Good for you! I’m also very anti-helicopter parenting and strongly believe that there’s going to be a fairly useless generation of adults soon because they were never taught competence at a young age. My kids are 8.5 and 7 and we’re at the stage now that my husband and I are comfortable going away from the house for 30 minutes at a time (typically to take the dog on a walk or run to the grocery down the street). By next year, we’ll probably be comfortable leaving them for an hour and possibly squeezing in a date lunch! The kids are fine…we do the same thing as you and leave one of our phones with them, they know not to answer the door (or even look out the window), and we have very close relationships with all of our neighbors in the cul-de-sac, so the kids know where to go in case of an emergency. A lot of adults nowadays seem to grossly underestimate a child’s capabilities (and obviously, there are plenty of children who are NOT ready to be left alone, and that’s fine), but it encourages me when I see other parents letting their kids develop their own sense of personal responsibility and independence.

    1. I agree. We set very clear boundaries with our kids for when they are home alone and we developed relationships with many neighbors. They know they could run in any directions and quickly reach a trust eat adult.
      I’m currently taking classes at our local community college. I was shocked my first semester when I saw how codependent so many of my classmates were. I can only imagine how lost they would have been had they gone away to college. I don’t think people consider that in 4 yrs ( from 12-13) that child that they are afraid to leave alone in their own home will be out navigating the wide world independently.

  11. I enjoyed reading this and firmly believe in doing what works for you when it comes to parenting. There’s truly no exact right way to do it. It’s right if it works for you. Growing up, my parents didn’t really ponder whether my sister and I walking to school would make us independent. It’s just something we had to do because parents had jobs to go to, and the school was close by so didn’t make sense to send someone to walk us. Similarly, they didn’t let us cook dinner or even a snack, as we had a cook for that. Depriving us of that privilege of cooking didn’t cross their mind, nor did it make us less independent or confident. I truly think we tend to overanalyze and doubt our instincts when it comes to parenting, especially given the myriad of parenting advice literature available. Technology is great and parenting advice, books, podcasts are great. It’s good to glean the wisdom of all of these but we shouldn’t let any of it direct our parenting or misdirect what we instinctively know will work for our own unique family.

  12. Loved reading about their excited squeals. I once read that our best memories from childhood rarely involved parents being present. Ha! It’s so true though. I have very fond memories of trips as a family, but when I think back about the best times with my friends, there were no parents to be seen. You are teaching them so much and inspiring me to teach my own kids laundry skills!

    1. Yes, this was a little shocking to me at first because I live in Illinois and our law is 14! But it’s against leaving them home for ‘an unreasonable’ amount of time, or in an unsafe weather environment, etc. That said, we have let my oldest ‘babysit’ my youngest for 1-2 hours after school until we get home from work, starting at age 11. I wouldn’t consider myself a helicopter parent, but maybe more conservative in this regard because of the law.

      1. Wow, 14! It definitely made us a little more conservative too. I didn’t even know it was a thing until we had over a dozen snow days one school year and the school sent a reminder. I’ve always been able to work from home as needed but that was a challenging winter for a lot of parents.

      2. What kills me is that the 14 year old who is finally able to stay home alone for the first time in Illinois will have his learner’s permit to drive a car a year later. The next year he will be alone in a car he is operating. How is that doing a service to anyone, Illinois? I was at the local pool with my friends with no parents at that age and I biked home alone afterward. I moved to a big city when I was 19 with no qualms. Kids need to test their wings now and then for sure!

        1. I wonder when that law was passed. I grew up in Illinois in the 70s. Us kids definitely had a lot of time alone without parents/baby sitters at younger than 14. I even babysat younger kids when I was 12.

    2. I’m not a parent but my first thought after reading the blog was wondering if its even legal.

    3. Portland parent here…in Oregon the legal age is 10. Emily, do what you will with that information. I’ve left my 9 year old and sometimes with the 9 year old, the 7 year old for quick daytime errands. There’s a 3 year old in the mix, and I would never make the older two be responsible for her alone at this point, so I haven’t really had the chance to practice leaving the other for longer chunks of time because if I get care for her, then it’s essentially care for all three.
      We just moved to a house with a park down the street. We bought high powered walkie talkies, and we’re letting the older two ride their bikes in the neighborhood and go to the park alone, using the walkie talkies to communicate with us. They have to be a team, and we know the neighborhood well. This independence is making them giddy, similar to what you described, Emily.

      1. Also Portland, OR here and the minimum age requirement is often a conversation between our parent friends. I know people who have done it during the day, like when one kid had to play soccer in the rain and the 8 year old refused to leave home so the parents left said 8 year old home. They know their kids, and what they can handle responsibility wise, but it’s definitely on their minds the whole time that what they are doing is actually against the law. Again, we’re in a quiet neighbourhood where people keep an eye out for each other (sometimes a little too closely) and I do sometimes wish we could give our older child a little more freedom/responsibility during the day, but I’m just too much of a rule follower. I know these laws are put in place with the idea of keeping kids safe, but I do wish they were more guidelines than actual punishable laws.

        Utah introduced a law a few years back about free range kids and letting them walk to and from school on their own etc. and from memory part of it was to protect children, and their parents, from having the police called on them by a “helpful” neighbour and all the issues that ensue afterwards. I appreciate the further thinking around the ramifications of these laws.

        Anyway, just wanted to echo Becky above that there are laws in Oregon above minimum ages to be left at home, so when Emily’s family moves up here, they may want to revisit this plan.

      2. I remember reading a story about a woman who was arrested because she left her kid in the car while she walked 100 feet away to put something in the mail box or something like that. She could see her car and probably was in voice range of the kid but was arrested. I was shocked. It makes me glad I’m not a parent in these days. If you want to be a free range parent it seems like it comes with a lot of risk.

    4. Thanks for posting that link. Very helpful! And I’m glad to see my state has no minimum age.

  13. This trend of parents being afraid to leave their kids alone drives me a little crazy because it definitely reflects privilege that is rarely directly addressed – I was raised by a single mom with 4 kids in the 1990s/2000s (31 now) so there were plenty of times that I was left home alone or in charge of my 2 years-younger sister. Since my mom had to work, I also routinely rode the metro in downtown DC by the age of 10 (I grew up in the DC suburbs, but frequently had camp or after school activities in DC – I always saw other kids taking the metro home from/to school on weekdays too). And my mom started traveling on business/leaving me and my younger sister alone for a few days by the time I was 14 (my older siblings were out of the house by this time). Kids can be trusted with more than you think so it’s great you’re getting them acclimated to you being gone at such an early age!

    1. Interesting, I work in the field of social services and the post actual made me think about the impact of privilege but in a very different way. I adore the blog and Emily opening her life to us but it is a very privileged lifestyle and framing this as progressive and anti helicopter parenting is a very privileged view on this. For families who don’t have the means for childcare and do the same of of necessity I think they would likely be judged very differently.

    2. I think this ALL DEPENDS on how safe and healthy the family structure is – and there are some lines to not cross.
      My story is a counterpoint and probably part of the backstory of how helicopter parenting styles got started. Sorry in advance if it is too serious or detailed!
      I was born in 1968, I was alone with my siblings a lot in the 70’s and 80’s – but my siblings had issues and my family was in a nasty divorce mess and I was a parentified child. I didn’t have a childhood because I had too many emotional and physical adult responsibilities. Partly cause I was the girl so my sexist family / culture expected me to do all the work for my brothers … I THOUGHT I could handle it and at the time I WANTED to do all that work to please them, ignoring my own needs. These were needs which I didnt even know I had at at the time ,because I had not been raised to have any needs.
      A lot of my pals were the same, left alone and seemingly ‘ mature’. By the time I was 13 I was over it – angry, alienated, burnt out. I simply stopped coming home. By the time my pals and I were 16-17 we had all basically rebelled and were acting out with some VERY serious problems….. There a whole wave of feeling in the 70’s that kids ( especially girls) are little grownups, “sassy sidekicks, smarter than adults, they’ll be fine” – see Paper Moon, Pretty Baby, The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane, Taxi Driver as examples, but a lot of that was “Me Generation self justification. … Yes I have tons of skills and I am super strong but it had very serious downsides
      All this is to say kids need to be a safe and accountable family full stop as a basis for anything.. girls need to know they are allowed to NOT be caretakers. There are a lot of sides to that more ‘hands off’ approach…

      1. KK, I’m sorry to read of your experience and fear that these scenarios are far too common.
        Thank you for bringing up a very important issue.

        1. Thanks! Hope its helpful, it took me years to figure out, I wouldn’t wish it on others LOL

  14. Oh my goodness, I laughed so hard at these pics and their expressions! This is awesome. Great parenting!

  15. I found this so interesting as I genuinely read this article expecting it to be a belated April fools. I’m from England so perhaps different cultures (and I’m of the Maddy generation) but it hadn’t even crossed my mind to leave my 10 and 8 Yr old alone in the house nor do I know anyone else who does. But it’s opened my eyes to thinking about what independence I could give them.

    1. I think there is a cultural difference, I’m from NZ living as an expat in the Middle East, lots of my friends are British and I think I picked up a lot of helicopter from them as I had my kids here. Definitely in NZ I see my friends kids are much less supervised. I left my 10 and 8 year old alone for the first time a few days ago and when I ran that past friends my American friends thought it was ok while my British/European were more cagey.

  16. I started coming home from school by myself around age 10. I think I was left alone as early as 8 years old a couple times for an hour here or there (in the 90s) and if you feel you can trust your kids and they will feel this responsibility to be trusted being home alone I think that’s great! (And genius) I hope I can do the same one day…although my 3 1/2 real old is the sneakiest child alive…as was I.

  17. Loved this. There is a fabulous book on all of this and the how tos: Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures teach us about Raising Children. The title didn’t do it for me but her interview on NPR sold us. Really helpful. I feel like I must spread the word on this book because it will do such good for us all.

    1. “How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims is great, too. It’s the anti-helicopter parenting manifesto and also talks about the roots of the recent backlash against leaving your kids at home alone.

  18. Just came here to say, make sure you check your state laws. Many states have laws of when a child can be left alone. If yours does, and your child is younger than the age and left alone, CPS can get involved and things can go south.

    1. Agreed. This post is 100% is missing this. It is reckless to have a post like this up without even a mention of legality.

    2. Several people have posted this, but fail to acknowledge that she didn’t leave her children alone. She was upstairs…Is there some law about being in a different area of your home?

      1. Right, and their original plan had been to simply walk to the park down the street. They weren’t driving a half hour away for anything. 😶

    3. Yes! If you do the research, you will note neither CA nor OR have laws regarding specified age for staying home alone. However, OR has a child neglect law that state a child be 10 or older to be home alone.

      My concern would be what would happen if one of the children choked on something they were eating (Sundae.) would they know what to do?

      1. Americans biggest fear in life seems to be that children choke on food and no one that’s around knows how to perform the famous heimlich maneuver. This fear controlled society is the reason for many problems in this country.

  19. California is great. In Illinois the minimun aga a child can be left home alone is 14. I don’t undetstand how this happened.

    1. This is so different to my country! It seems that in Germany the minimum age is only 3 years for 15 minutes unattended at home. If children are around 6 or 7 years it is 1-2 hours and if they are 10 years old more than 2 hours is allowed (always depending on the child).

      1. Those laws make much more sense, especially when school aged kids return from school earlier than parents. I don’t know why IL made it this restrictive. It used to be 12 yo, which is too old as well.

    2. Just because California doesn’t have a minimum age, it does NOT mean you can legally leave kids home at any age- it just gives the police/court/jury discretion to decide what is reasonable vs criminal. My state doesn’t have a minimum and I know people have been arrested for leaving kids alone who are a bit older than this

    3. I live in IL and looked up the law a couple years ago because I’m a parent. I understand that IL says you can’t leave children under age 12 for more than 24 hours. It is perfectly legal to have a 13 year old babysitting for an evening or a 12 year old coming home alone off the bus after school.

  20. My kids are 16-21 now. I think we left them home alone for more than 15 minutes at about 9-10. They did play outside with their friends around the neighborhood and go trick or treating on their own from about 3rd grade, so it is all baby steps. We still get someone to stay the night with our HS junior if we are out of town, whether that is one of the older siblings or an aunt/grandma. She can drive now, so maybe we’ll loosen that up next year if we ever leave the house. 🙂 The older kids have gone off to college and had fun and managed themselves fine, so I guess we instilled confidence and competence in them.

  21. This is great. Get an Alexa and they can call you on that. We just left our 6 and 9 yo home for an hour alone. We were 2 miles away. We often go on 20 minute walks with the dog They were on iPads the whole time. It was a win win. My 9 yo walks home from school on the days the 6yo stays late. She loves the independence. And as for helicopter parenting- I had to stop letting them walk home together as they’d fight and friends would see them walking and get concerned. Yay for independent kids.

  22. Delightful and inspiring! My dudes are still very little (no one is leaving my two year old alone, clearly), but this opened my eyes to thinking about them being alone SO much earlier than I would have thought about. What a great goal to work toward. And I was also worried for you in the comments that people might be unkind or judgey, and more pleasant surprises down there. It’s great to hear so many good thoughts on kid independence! Thanks everyone for widening my mind about how I want to parents as my kids get older.

    1. Mine are 8 and 6. It also never occurred to me to leave them alone yet. We live in an urban suburb and I don’t know any parents that leave theirs alone yet, but they may just not talk about it. My biggest fear isn’t strangers, but fires. Two elementary boys in my city died when alone getting ready before school (toaster fire) while mom ran quickly to the store. I think maybe at 9 I will consider it.

      1. We must live in the same neighborhood as I posted the same story of the boys. I’m in GPP.

  23. I spent my entire summer vacations home alone starting at 9 years old. I wasn’t allowed to go outside (apartment dwellers, so no yard), but books, tv, video games and a good imagination kept me occupied. It never occurred to me that was abnormal. It’s amazing how many kids grew up the same way to be parents who wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing.

    1. But do we want kids to grow up left alone inside an apartment all summer long? Maybe we’re just trying to do better by our kids. My generation grew up without wearing seatbelts, while we lived to tell the tale, I now hope all kids safely wear seatbelts.

  24. Such a fun idea!! Just a heads up…it’s still illegal in Oregon to leave kids alone under the age of 10. I can’t remember how old Charlie is. Anyway, just throwing that out there but I’m all for independence!

  25. Mom of 5 now ages 12-24 & very much NOT a helicopter parent but have to say that kids need to demonstrate the ability to know what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency. Under 10 they really don’t have that cognitive ability. If there was a fire would they be able to get out & actually be able to make the decision not to try to get the dogs out too? If they were being silly & one of them got hurt would they try to fix it themselves or do they have the ability to know the situation requires a call to 911? One thing we did do as the kids got older & we would leave them with younger siblings is to pay ALL the kids so they would all have a incentive to work as a team & have things run smoothly.

    And as many have stated, lots of states have rules as to ages kids are allowed to be home alone & also when they are considered old enough to babysit other kids. Check your your local rules.

  26. So funny! Good for you! Not exactly the same but we have a small cafe near us that has great dinner specials and I remember going and enjoying a really nice meal with my husband and feeling like we were on a real date….all while my kids were sitting behind us at the next two-top table! We started doing these little “dates” where the kids had one table and we had our own. They were young and well behaved and we did many times over the years. You do what you can! They have great restaurant manners now! Enjoy!

  27. So cute! I’m glad you all enjoyed yourself and had an empowering experience.

    I don’t think I’m a “helicopter parent,” but I don’t know that anyone knows what that actually means, aside from a buzz word that vaguely means a parent is overprotective. I think no matter how many times you say “you do you,” your position is basically, “parents can do as they please, I guess…. even weird and dumb helicopter parents.” I think it’s important not to generalize and to remember that all caregivers are operating without a handbook, and are doing the best they can while being informed by their own experiences, trauma, childhood, culture, and the learning they’ve done as adults. A close friend had very firm “free-range” beliefs for her own kiddos and was peeved that a neighbor would come over for play dates and his parent always insisted on staying with the kids while they played in the backyard. That parent sensed the tension and mentioned that their older child experienced a traumatic event while playing unsupervised, so they changed their behavior. I’m not catastrophizing or telling you to not do what you’re doing, but I would caution against gross generalization.

    1. You bring up an interesting point! “You do you” works in a bubble and unless your kids have zero friendships outside the home, you will be constantly navigating how to deal with different parenting styles even when they are teenagers.

      I think it’s important to be an open communicator with other parents about expectations so no one feels uncomfortable. When they are young, be transparent at a play dates about what the kids will be doing including whether or not they will be supervised and by who. If in doubt call the parent and ask, or don’t do it. I found out the hard way that some parents will not like the idea of your oldest keeping an eye on their kid while you run down the street to grab some snacks at the market.

    2. So well said! Helicopter parenting is a useful term to speak to a greater shift if our society, but is just as useful at shaming parents as any other parenting stigma.
      Every parent is a mix of strengths and weaknesses, which are usually just formed by our past experience. For example, my kids have been privileged to always have access to a couple of acres of land for their yard. We joke about how our two year old seems to have no sense of distance from his parents because he’s always been able to be an acre away from us and it’s never been a big deal. But I also experienced a few emergencies and even moments of abuse that happened when I was unsupervised as a kid. Is that the worst case scenario? Yes. Is that likely to happen? No, not really. But as a parent I’ve found myself accused of being both negligent and a helicopter parent, depending on the circumstance.
      I loved this post and always enjoy learning from your parenting experiences, Emily. Maybe just be careful about those labels like “helicopter parents” or even (from a couple years ago… sure stuck with me) “garbage parents.” I think it sends the opposite message of your very good intentions.

    3. There were a couple of bad things happening near me when I was 4-6. One boy set fire in my basket. At a different time there were 2 young adult men (complete strangers) with puppies coming into my building as I was playing with friends in a common area. I lived on a first floor, screamed,my mom opened the door, strangely they never came back. Each incident caused me not wanting go out for a few days (it felt like 2 weeks at least, but mom remembers days).I think it is so important to be in tune with kids. But making assumptions and doing too much will hurt them too. If a child wants their mom to be there ehile they play then I understand. But if they feel courage and confidence I don’t think it’s fair for the parent to make an assumption that the child can’t handle the situation. Of course you have to take into account the neighborhood safety, neurosiversity, and all that, but it might be healthier if moms met for coffee and let kids play outside and come in when they need health than just going there and watching. Kids need some privacy too.

    4. I can say that what happens to you as a child can inform how and when this independence happens for your children. I had ultimate freedom in the 70’s but we had the most horrific thing that could happen to a child happen to a best friend that lived in my neighborhood. I won’t go in to details but I am sure you can imagine. And that this event shaped who I am as a parent. I do fight it. And I do still give her independence and I do know what happened was a one in a million incident- but calling everyone who takes it slower a helicopter parent isn’t really fair. She is runs around the neighborhood with friends, does sleepovers and is a confident great kid. We just now at almost 12 are going to start leaving her home for a small period of time. This is a good push, thank you! Truthfully, I am terrified!

  28. OMG> i TOTALLY needed to read this! i’m a complete helicopter parent due to my own anxiety, traumas, and reading too much horrible stuff in the news. we know way too much nowadays. but i really want to change that because my kids are older and i know that this is just hurting them because they need to learn independence and competence. my sister and i watched ourselves at a younger age than my kids are when my mom was a single parent. but i’ve always been way more concerned. anyway, my kids are almost 11 and 8. i am totally going to try this. it will not only build their confidence, but my own confidence in their independence. great post! and yes, totally still trying to figure out my weird triggers too.

  29. I started leaving my kids alone during COVID. They are 7-year-old twins. I didn’t want to risk taking them to public places like the grocery store and I had no help. I have a security system in our house so I could check on them through the cameras. We have a home phone so they could call me. They know not to answer the door or open the doors. We also live in a very safe neighborhood. I felt very comfortable. I would also alert a friend that I had left the kids so if something happened to me while
    I was out, they would know to go get the kids.

    1. Lived in Japan. We saw this all the time and it was perfectly normal. I was amazed and impressed.

    2. My dad tells me stories from growing up poor in the Bronx that he would ride the subway alone starting at 3 years old in the 40s and 50s… My husband and I aren’t that loose with our kids, but our work meant that we sometimes had to leave our kids home by themselves starting about 6 mo ths ago for up to two hours. They are 10, 9, and 6 and so super capable and independent. We also are in a safe neighborhood with neighbors who know us and our kids incredibly well. This IS privileged!

  30. With us it was a more gradual approach, our time outside the house grew longer as they matured. Maybe starting with us doing yard work while they watched a show, for instance, when they were really little. Over time they learned about safety, how to use the phone, etc, so we could pop out to the market quickly. Once they were around 7 or 8 (they are 11 and 13 now) we could leave one by themselves while I ran the other to a sports practice in town. So it was never a huge deal and when we progressed to date nights where they put themselves to bed (I think we started that when my oldest was 11 or 12) it was a natural progression.

    It’s funny and interesting to see different perspectives, when I was reading about your experience and the kids screaming, I thought you were going to say you were surprised they weren’t taking the responsibility seriously and it didn’t work out. The phone was for emergency use! Maybe I’m no fun, but I don’t want my kids to think us being away means it’s time to party. They have fun together, but it’s not a raucous good time. But I get that it’s cute. 🙂

    My big fear (other than actual catastrophes, like choking, only recently have they been allowed to eat) is that the smoke alarm will go off unnecessarily! It’s basically my biggest fear when I’m in the house too. I really don’t think they need to be THAT loud and wish there was an easier way to turn them off! (I know, I know, it’s for good reason.)

  31. I would leave my 8 year old home alone, but Oregon has a somewhat vague child neglect law. We have a ton of neighbors close by and would probably go somewhere close. I love how you set them up to feel they are on their own. So cute!

    163.545 Child neglect in the second degree. (1) A person having custody or control of a child under 10 years of age commits the crime of child neglect in the second degree if, with criminal negligence, the person leaves the child unattended in or at any place for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child.
    (2) Child neglect in the second degree is a Class A misdemeanor. [1971 c.743 §174; 1991 c.832 §2]

  32. Thanks for the post. Where I live (Ontario), it is actually illegal to leave a child under 10 alone. And I believe they must be 12 to be left with a younger sibling. This is just simply not done here. It isn’t a matter of “different parenting techniques/values”, but a matter of having your kids potentially taken away from you for negligence.

    I’m unsure what the laws are like in the US, but perhaps this post is missing some kind of mention of checking to make sure this is legal before leaving your children unsupervised?

    1. California doesn’t have a minimal age. Maryland has 8, Oregon 10, Illinois where I live has 14. I think safety is important and all kids are different, but I think those decisions should be left to parents. You are correct, the legal system can give you lots of problems and it can leave you bankrupt.

  33. This is an interesting topic for sure! I think kids need opportunities for independence. 100% agree that competence = confidence.
    Our story: we are an Army family & chose to live on base for the first time. All of my kids have benefited from living here simply due to their ability to be independent.
    My girls, now 13 & 12, started biking to the gas station to get slurpees & gum when we moved here. They have to speak up, be polite, know how to count change etc. Kids their age play manhunt after dark.
    My boys, ages 6 & 8, roam the neighborhood & woods, and are gone for hours at a time. There are no fences, but our neighborhood looks quite different from the one surrounding it, and that visual difference is enough to limit their movement naturally. They bike to school 1 mile away by themselves in the mornings, joined by a other kids (“the bike gang,” I like to call them).
    The other parents are like us: they let their kids roam and there are so many kids playing outside.
    I can tell esp with my boys, how “big” they feel bc of their independence.
    Anyway, great conversation starter Emily!

  34. There are some state laws on this issue so it’s also important to be aware of those. Range from no limit up to 12.

  35. I love this and your kids are so cute! But just a heads up, there are laws that vary from state to state regarding on what age you can let your children stay home alone. There are incidences of nosy neighbors calling CPS and parents have risked losing their children. (Didn’t this just happen with a single mom leaving her 10 yr old home alone with a younger sibling at a hotel because the mom needed to work and couldn’t find or afford childcare?) Not saying that the nosy neighbors and CPS are in the right, I definitely believe children need more independence and less helicoptering, but it is something that should be considered and researched.

  36. I like the idea of giving kids independence, but it’s important not to romanticize the past. My siblings and I had a huge amount of freedom at a very young age. Some crazy stuff happened. Once my sister put leftover takeout pizza, still in the cardboard box, in the oven. I tried to tell her, but she was older and wouldn’t listen. That was fire #1. Another time, we decided to make French fries, but got distracted watching tv. That was fire #2. Another time my brother locked me out. After knocking and knocking, I decided to try the window. I pushed too hard and ended up breaking it, causing a gash on my wrist that needed stitches. My brother bribed me with a French silk pie from Bakers Square not to tell. Good deal, so I never got those stitches. I lost feeling in my pinky for years. Another time, I was walking outside and a man in a car asked me for my phone number. He was an adult so I gave it to him. That started months of him calling me while masturbating. I didn’t know what was happening at first, and then I was too embarrassed to tell my parents. I eventually confessed to my sister and she told him off and he stopped calling. I mean none of that killed me, but some of it could have. And the fires required some expensive repairs that we didn’t have the money for. So we lived with a charred kitchen for years. I am very competent though. Little brother, treated the same way, totally incompetent. My sense is that we would have turned out the same way regardless.

    1. My heart goes out to you. I experienced a horrific sexually abusive phone call when babysitting at the age of 12, during which I was threatened into doing abusive acts to myself. After that there was a long period of time where a man (not likely the same one though I didn’t know this) would call and say obscene things to whomever answered the phone. I’m sure that compounded the earlier trauma that I’d been through. The original trauma still affects me in a very real way and I’m almost 50. I agree that kids need more freedom and also agree that some really bad shit happens. As parents we just have to do our best to navigate both of those realities. But despite all that I just shared, I think this post is great and so fun and I am – as always – inspired to get my kids doing ALOT more stuff on their own, from chores to the more fun stuff in life.

      1. MKP I am so sorry that happened to you. I was sexually assaulted by a man whose kids I had just babysat. I was a young 15 and he and his wife were good friends with my parents. Even at 15 I did not know how to handle what happened. I knew to push him off of me and run, but I did not know to tell my parents, let alone the police. I just refused to ever babysit for his kids again or be in the same room with him. Even as my mother demanded that I babysit for her friends again, I kept the secret. In fact I never told my parents what happened, which meant that my younger sisters eventually babysit for the family. The man formed a close friendship with my sister, which I assume means that he assaulted her, too, but groomed her into thinking that she was special to him. I feel ill writing this.

        I hope you’ve had therapy and help to deal with your trauma. It doesn’t make it go away, but it helps work your way to remissions in the PTSD.

        I think it’s important to think of all the things that could happen to your children if you leave them alone at a young age. If you are not comfortable discussing how to handle sexual assault, or flashers, or phone pervs with your kids, then it is too soon to leave them alone.

        1. I’m so sorry this happened to you and I’m so glad you’ve sought therapy.
          I love what you said at the end–if you, as a parent, are not ready to have the tough conversations and your children are not ready to hear them–it is too soon to leave them alone.
          As a social worker, I worked for the state with juvenile sex offenders–kids and teens who abused other kids and teens, so please remember it is not just adults that we need to worry about. If an older kid is overly interested in hanging out with/babysitting/pays special attention to younger kids–this is a warning sign.

  37. I vividly remember when my mom left me home alone to go to the grocery store when I was 9. A mature 9, I should add. It was awesome until my 3rd grade “boyfriend” showed up at the door with his mom to give me a Christmas present. I opened the door and when I told her my mom wasn’t home I could see her doing her best to remain calm. I’m shocked child services didn’t end up knocking an hour later (my mom would have been home by then). 😂

  38. I think one of the biggest things to leaving kids home alone when they’re young is amazing neighbors. If kids have an out to go to a close neighbors house i think it can add confidence on the kids and the parents.

  39. Instead of an actual land line, we got a flip phone for our kids at that age. It was set up as a pay as you go phone, so it only cost about $109/year total. Yay for free range parenting!!!

  40. I love this idea. I think my 8 and 6 year old would actually really shine in a scenario like this but sadly we have a 2 year old and he is too large to be lifted by the 8 year old so not really a crew we can leave. Also we live in NYC so another added layer. I do think it depends on the kids through. I have a brother who is two years older and I remember my parents paid me $1 a day to watch my 2 year old brother when I was 7 while they painted the house. By the end of the week I had him potty trained! But my mom asked me to check in on my older brother too that week and make he sure ate— ha.

  41. Check out Gizmo Watch for kids. It gives parents the ability to track kids’ location and call them and kids can call numbers approved by parents but have no internet access. Also, it is harder to lose because its on their wrist. It is nice for if they walk home from school or are outside playing in a larger lot you can call to tell them time to come in.

  42. I gotta say, the thought of a 5 1/2 and a 7 1/2 year old, if they were REALLY left home alone for 2 hours, scares the crap out of me. I love the trick you played to make them THINK they were on their own, I dunno how you pulled it off! We (four girls) were allowed free range of our 52 acres but we always knew mom was not leaving the property. We rode bikes and hiked and screamed like banshees and fought and played and grew.

    Fast-forward many years, I’m a single mom who decides her 13 year old son is ready to be home alone for the first time (after all, GIRLS his age are babysitters by now!). I take a 5-hour work shift, have set up for a couple of friends to ‘drop in’ to use our workout room as a tiny check-in on him. All goes well, he is so puffed up and proud – he calls his gramma (his dad’s mom) and tells her he is home by himself while mom’s working……. and she calls CPS.

    You never ever ever want this happening to you.

    You will be not be treated with respect. I was treated like a criminal and verbally provoked and called a liar. I had the humiliation of CPS having to interview my boss, having to interview my son’s school staff, having to put up with unscheduled home inspections….. once the process starts, they treat you as guilty and look for ways to prove it.

    Of course it finally ended, but was traumatic for both of us. It shouldn’t be a part of our story…..

    1. I left my six year old in the house while I took my seven year old across the street to the bus stop. He came out and stood on the porch just as a cop drove by. She stopped and asked him what he was doing. (I’ll never understand why she stopped). He told her that he was home alone…I was less than 20 yards away but I was off of our property. The cop called DSS on me and while it eventually amounted to nothing, I did spend the day being yelled at and explaining myself to the social worker at my daughters school. Humiliating and scary.

      1. and if you listen to the podcast Do No Harm you’ll realize this could have resulted in your kids being taken away from you for years.

  43. I found the helicopter parenting comment a little offensive and clueless. It’s really not helicopter parenting to not want to leave a 7 and 5 year old home alone. It’s illegal in some places, including Oregon FYI. My parents weren’t overprotective at all but we definitely weren’t left alone at a young age in the 80’s and neither were any other kids I knew.

    1. I agree about the comment. I am so uncomfortable with the thought of leaving a 5 and 7 year old at home. The kids could have heard them upstairs and really gotten scared thinking someone broke in. The whole thing made me cringe.

  44. I think kids DO come with a handbook: it’s what your childhood was. Seems like so many of us are busy either trying to replicate our childhoods or rejecting them and doing the exact opposite. I always wonder if our childhood experiences really affect us that much or is it more how those experiences interacted with our inherent personalities? In larger families, kids raised the exact same way often turn out so differently.

  45. In Maryland a child can’t be left home alone until they’re 8 and a child can’t be responsible for another sibling until they’re 13 so it’s good to check the local laws. On a different topic, you must have amazing soundproofing in your bedroom.

  46. I think there risk/reward analysis to all of this that is unique to each family. Also, I love the good old buddy system we followed in Girl Scouts.

  47. I think my daughter was 4 or 5 when she’d ride her scooter around the block by herself. I was always out front and knew how long it took her. She loved the independence. By 7, I think I left her alone for quick errands, but there were always neighbors to call on if help was needed. At 11, she was taking an hour train ride to get to school, but other classmates joined her along the ride (although she usually had about 15 minutes before the others boarded). At 14, we left her overnight. My sister lives nearby and checked on her. She’s now 17, and we leave her longer lengths. This works for us, because she’s super trustworthy and a total introvert. Her best friends live in other cities and none of them drive, which could be considered a benefit or a worry. But at 17, many teens are away at college for the first time. I think nearby dates (walks or hidden in the next room) are great ways to start that independence. I knew there were some laws in place, but I didn’t realize they were so strict in some states.

  48. I would check to see if your state has a law regarding the age of children being left alone. Where I am in Illinois, you can’t leave kids under 14 alone, which seems a little much.

  49. We started leaving our son home while we ran errands right in town(a mile away) when he was 9. When he was 10 1/2 or so we started leaving his sister home with him as well for super short errands. She’s 3 years younger. Now that he is 12 almost 13, we will go out to dinner or shopping together and leave them home for longer stretches. We got a Google voice phone number and phone so they can call for help or reach us. They don’t have cellphone yet. I think they really appreciate that we trust them and enjoy the freedom of being home alone.

  50. Our kids are 11, 8, and 3. Where we live, they can stay home along when they’re 8, and watch younger kids when they’re 12. When our oldest was 8, we let him stay home by himself for short periods–we’d go on a walk or run to the store or something. We’ve let him go longer and longer stretches, especially now that he has a device where he can text us. Plus, we have a security camera so we can more or less keep an eye on him. He actually stayed home the whole time we got our first vaccines! Our middle just turned 8 and we haven’t had the chance to let her stay by herself yet (since we’re basically home together all the time right now …) but we will soon. And in a few months our oldest will be able to watch our youngest! We could potentially leave them all alone together (haha we would never do this they’d probably burn the house down at worst, and at best just watch screens the whole time).
    I will say though, with the pandemic, we’ve also gotten much less helicopter-y. They both ride bikes alone, they go down the street to play with friends (outside/masked) and we just tell them when to be home. There are other parents in the neighborhood on a text chain in case we need to find them/send them home, but it does feel very 80s in a way. My oldest will even ride his bike a mile or so from our house to meet up with friends at a park. They do really love the independence.

  51. I started at 10 with my son. I was an 80s kids and my parents started at 10 as well and even then, sometimes I was a little scared. I think it comes down to your own kids but I definitely wouldn’t leave my younger son home alone yet… I want to do it when I know they’ll have a confident and successful first try because I want them to learn healthy independence and that really comes down to knowing what your kids can handle! They already handle all sorts of chores really well… dishwasher, recycle/garbage, vacuuming, putting away laundry. The comments have been interesting!

  52. Yay you! Sounds like it was a great experience for all. The key things when I left my kiddo alone for the first time was practicing a lot of “what if” games. There’s zero need to make it scary, but it’s really important that they know what to do if there was an accident (call me so I can help you!) or really importantly: what to do if there was a fire. “What to do if there’s a fire” is a vital one for all ages no matter what (and is a really important thing to practice with the kids in a fun way, not a scary way) every month or so. Practice what to do if they’re upstairs, if they’re downstairs, if you are all home, if they’re home by themselves.

    But most of all ask them what they think they could do if ___ happens. Ask with curiosity, brainstorm with them what are good ideas (it’s far more likely to stick with them when you come up with “what to dos” together), and then practice them together – as you said: competence= confidence!

    I kept my old cell phone and turned it into the “home phone,” and then wiped it and added in just the contacts that made sense for them to call: myself, the neighbors on our block, and grandparents. (I also let the neighbors know that this phone numbers was my kiddo’s land line so that they would know who it was and answer it!). It’s important that kids know how to triage who to call if they need help: e.g. they shouldn’t call 911 if they can’t turn the sprinkler off, but they could call their neighbor. (This is really for when they get a little older, obviously now they’re going to call you if they need something, but when they’re older it can be good to start having times where they’ll need to reach out to other adults in your circle for a hand).

    And I’m absolutely with you on enabling kids to do their own laundry, unload dishwashers, all of it. It makes such a difference for them later on, too.

    1. Oh! I wanted to add that in addition to “what to do if there’s a fire” – practice what to do if there’s an earthquake in all sorts of rooms in the house – make a game of it! It can be fun and is so necessary in earthquake county 🙂

    2. Also adding that mine was 10 the first time I left him alone, and it was daytime for about 2.5 hours. Before that I’d walk the dog while he stayed home for about 20 minutes, but in Oregon kids under 10 can’t be left alone. We did a couple of other daytime alone events, and then when he was 11 there early evening school meetings that I had where it would be 2 hours, and I’d be home by 8pm.

    3. Yes to all of this Kate! Great idea about the old phone. I make our son help with chores like the dishwasher, making his bed, putting away his laundry and some cleanup tasks. It takes longer and there’s more nagging than I feel like doing. Sometimes, it frankly sucks for both of us. But I know I will be doing it FOREVER if I don’t suffer a bit now.

  53. People will be all over me for this but I will take the dog for a 15 minute walk with my 6 year old at home every once in a while, especially early in the morning. I stay within 3 blocks of the house. My son knows the route i’ll take, he knows to keep the door locked, don’t go near the stove and do not answer the door. Knows to go to the (very close) neighbor if he needs help. The house has a security system where he can call help with a touchscreen. We have a neighbor from Scandinavia another from Germany. Each let their kids go solo to the park across from our house or ride a bike in the near neighborhood around 1st grade. Just like when we were kids. I grew up in a rural area and kids there have much more independence than urban and suburban kids. For many (not all, of course) families the culture of fear now is more about media and cultural pressure than reality. From a feminist perspective, it also puts a lot of pressure on mothers. Something to think about. 🙂

  54. It’s not “law” but in the UK children shouldn’t be left home alone under 12… I’m an American and live here with my English husband. This age boggles my mind because I was babysitting a BABY at age 11! I did have my YMCA babysitter course card with me and it was a neighbor so my mom was just down the street but still!

  55. I agonized over this decision and found no help by asking our laws, professionals, etc. I applaud you for your clever test! Untimately, what influenced me the most was a local horror story. A mom left her two young teens (boy and girl) who were trustworthy. Unbeknownst to her a local church was sponsoring a rotating homeless shelter where a very young couple were turned away for arriving too late. They walked to the teens home and knocked saying car broke down and needed a phone. The kids knew better but were fooled and opened the door and let them in. The son was beaten, daughter raped and home ransacked. The mom was demonized and, I believe, initially charged for leaving the kids. I was told there is no “age” but depends on the kid. But if anything happens, it the parent’s fault as the kids weren’t mature enough to handle it. Yikes!

    1. What exactly locale is this? I’m having a hard time believing this is real. It plays on too many highly statistically insignificant themes that make it hard to believe. And also doesn’t really make much sense, when you comb through it. What exactly was the homeless couples motivation for “beating” and “raping” kind helpful teens when what they needed was a place to stay? Sounds very sensationalistic and almost devised as a tool to provide the most amount of panic to a parent.

        1. Don’t think being homeless has anything to do with it except explaining why they happened to be in that neighborhood at that time. For all I know, they may have had a home somewhere.

      1. Well that was hurtful. Twain’s quote that truth is stranger than fiction has lasted a long time for a reason! HIlton Village area of Newport News, Virginia years ago, should you like to research it to attack me further. Over time, some details could have be confused, to your delight. For example, the couple could have been turned away for being on drugs instead of just after curfew.

        1. I am sorry, you were right. I just looked into it. It was hard to find, because 99% of the articles you find using those terms are teens beating homeless people. But it’s there, and I apologize for doubting!

          1. Thank you. I just saw this and I can’t believe you actually looked. I have no reason to make parenting more difficult than what we already go through. Apology accepted. It was horrifying and beyond belief to me as well.

        1. Vicki- Sorry you were harangued in this thread. Not sure what Emma #1 was trying to cast aspersions on but these situations do happen. There are a number of root causes to homelessness and a vast number of them have little relation to economics or are the basis for economic issues. Mental instability and/or drug addiction are two of the most common. That is not to stigmatized anyone, it is just a basic fact of the homeless epidemic. And the opioid crisis made worse. If you have worked in any homeless outreach this is 101 basic info. The younger a couple are in this scenario, there is more likelihood that some level of erratic/illogical behavior is involved so questioning why would someone act this way is pointless. It happens. And a robbery, when already desperate after being turned away, would be likely- especially if any addiction issues were involved as that would heighten the need for the comfort of their hit. The beating and rape as aggression against those that seem to have it all. That poor mother! Do you ever forgive yourself for what your children endured?- you don’t mention their ages but it is horrible. Lets not shame each other or assume others have an agenda when offering stories up. Maybe learn from each other what both the risks and rewards are in play in this question- there are both.

  56. My mom and I were JUST talking about this! I just had my baby girl a year ago + remember so well my mom trusting me when I was 10 to come home after school each day, make a snack and hang solo until she got home — and I remember neighbours being SO concerned and trying to parent over my moms decisions — and yet, these neighbours always trust me and wanted me around their kid because “I was responsible”. I know for sure that autonomy taught me skills I use to this day in my career. Bravo! Here’s to more adventures and blurry photos.

  57. I find this conversation fascinating. I live in New Zealand where it’s illegal to leave your children home alone under the age of 14, it’s been that way since 1981. No one I know does it and no one did it when I was growing up. So we are either an entire country of “helicopter parents” or being a helicopter parent has got nothing to do with when you determine when to leave your kids home alone.

    1. 🤔 I grew up in nz and we were often home alone (after school not at night) under the age of 14, as well as walking to and from school alone by the age of 6-7. By age 14 I was babysitting other people’s kids on a regular basis which I think is where the law comes in, I don’t think it’s illegal to leave a 10 year old home alone. Maybe it depends what city you live in but I think kiwi kids are pretty free range and independent, I always feel that when I visit and compare to my kids growing up outside NZ.

      1. You may want to the check the the law. It’s 14 years old. It doesn’t change on cities as we don’t have regional laws. I’ve lived in several cities in NZ and haven’t found it too different.

        And yes totally legal to babysit at 14 years old. That’s in the law too.

        I think kiwi kids are very free range and independent but just in other ways. Not necessarily home alone.

  58. Agree with the poster that said we are informed by the parenting we received as children. My parents were from large families where the younger were watched by the older while the parents dealt with life. My mom was home with us until I was 12 (youngest sibling was 8) so we were latchkey kids for 3 hours daily. I babysat at 12 and was walking up to the corner store for milk at 10 if we ran short before dinner. But I lived in a safe bubble, overall- with several friends/ neighbors on our street. I have also seen very vulnerable situations that children were not in supported situations. Selfish parenting just didn’t want to compromise their fun or put their responsibilities first. I think the laws that are in place are there to protect against the lowest common denominator of parents. Independence is great but a child’s mental maturity is important. In a perfect scenario, all is well. But it is that electrical short in the wiring, that random person coming to the door, that tornado touches down, mom and dad in a wreck coming home- a child below a certain age should not be required to deal with decisions how to act then. We have worked to have self reliant children but I also balanced every decision by whether I would struggle to explain to a third party or my own conscience if a dangerous situation blew up. Their safety isn’t only predicated on being personally responsible themselves- which is why there are legal minimum ages in place. Without having a capable adult within reach (even next door) I would not leave a 5 and 7 year old unattended (and yes, I realize Emily and Brian were really home all the time).

    1. Yes – this! My kids can take care of themselves well under normal circumstances, and are expected to. But if, god forbid, there was a rare emergency. . .

  59. My daughter was so excited to be given the chance to stay home by herself.. but we lived in a neighborhood where the houses were spaced out and most people worked during the day so it took a long time for me to feel comfortable leaving her. Finally when she was 10 she was mildly sick and I needed to take her brother to school – a 25 minute round trip. So I left her happily on the couch with the phone next to her…. just after I was leaving brother’s school she called… there was a bear on the grill on the back deck! The dogs scared it away but that was NOT something I had thought to prepare her for…..

  60. That must have been so cute hearing them and then seeing photos. I know when I was about 4 years old, my Mom would sit me down in front of the TV and sternly warn me not to move. Then she would dash across the street to the corner grocery store and come back. She was probably buying cigarettes. Horrors! This was in the ’60s.

  61. I am 25, so it’s not like this was a long time ago. I grew up in the Portland area and was left home for a full 8 hours, 5 days a week during the summer starting at age 12. I think people who are talking about legality and other things have no concept of the class implications of the cost of childcare for low income families.

    I am significantly more street smart and went to college ready to be independent because my parents trusted me. I loved that time alone. My spouse was never left alone and they struggled intensely and still panic when something goes wrong around the house. No shame, but it does really help. Good on you, Emily.

    1. This is the whole argument of nature vs. nurture and it’s not so black and white. My anecdotal evidence suggests the exact opposite. I think giving kids opportunities to act independent (with a safety net) is great but it’s not as much of a 1:1 direct correlation as people in this comment section seem to think!

  62. I have left my kids at the house alone (now 11 & 7) for a quick trip to the store when I needed an ingredient for dinner, but we live 2-3 miles from the grocery store. My 11 year old daughter is very mature and responsible, so I would totally feel okay leaving her home alone for an extended amount of time. It my 7 year old that I don’t quite trust. He knows my cell phone number and I have a home phone, but sometimes he just doesn’t think before he makes decisions. I would be worried I would come home to a house burnt down.

  63. It’s literally illegal here in Vancouver BC Canada to leave a child under 10 alone at home. I think some kids can handle it earlier than that but you can be reported to Child Services here.

  64. “…in a way that I think disturbs us all.”
    I love your descriptions and for always keeping it real and finding the humor.

  65. We just left our kids “home alone” for the first time two days ago. They are 8 and 10. I felt so weird about doing it even though at that age my mum would have left us often and we were walking to and from school alone. I think the biggest difference is I grew up in suburbs with us knowing the neighbors well, and so there was really a village of adults around we could have gone to. Now my kids are growing up in high rise and although in many ways it’s more secure (literally a reception desk, security guards etc) it’s also more disconnected with everyone in their little compartments. Plus with high rise I always think about fires so I wouldn’t have left my kids until I was positive they would be capable to not panic if the fire alarm went off.

    So anyway like good helicopter parents we installed messenger kids on both kids iPads and checked in with them every 15 minutes while we went out for coffee for an hour. I thought the kids might freak out but they were totally cool with it. So yesterday we again went out, with less checking in and it started to feel like something we can do on the regular. Which after a year of lockdowns and homeschooling/working from home is really quite life changing and a totally different headspace to get into. This along with sending the kids to the nearby store to buy bread and milk, and letting have sleepovers and friends houses really does feel like a milestone and you can see the pride and confidence that kids get from it. It’s definitely not the free range I grew up with, (and I’ll probably buy the Apple watches eventually 😂) but it is progress. It is so important for kids to know that their parents have faith in them.

  66. we left our girls (5 and 8.5) at the hotel room alone few times already for a quick run to the groceries. they did just fine. I think we all grew up being alone and it’s the new world of over parenting and insecurity that made it extra hard to leave them alone.

  67. I’ll never forget how proud my five year old was to walk a letter down to the community mailbox all alone. She talked about it for weeks! For COVID, my husband and I have dates in our backyard while they (5 and 3) watch a movie inside (we can see them through a window). Once they crept over to the fridge and pulled out cut-up veggies to sneakily snack on (ha!).

    Motherhood, for me, is the ultimate lesson in letting go of control. My anxiety can be debilitating and detrimental, I just try to do my best.

  68. I also think the context of where you live matters (not just laws). Two years ago, siblings 9 and 11 both died in a house fire that raged quickly when mom ran to the store. The boys panicked and hid, even though they had been through safety town (a one week safety camp for kids here in our community). It has scarred our whole community. Houses still have two crossed hockey sticks On their porches to honor the boys. That factors heavily on so many parents here who may have left their kids for a spell precisely as the post describes. It weighs in a lot of parents’ decisions still. We also have a lot of nervous grandparents here. One grandma called the cops on one of my mom friends who watched her kid ride his bike down the block and cross a bigger street (not big, nothing like, say Vermont in LA). The kid was 7. It was all fine but even kids riding their bikes tussles some feathers if the kids are perceived to be too young. We can’t win! Give them some freedom to build independence and you’re a lazy parent. That’s a crude generalizations but in our suburb that’s kinda how it feels. I love this post and what you’re teaching your kids.

  69. Nope to actually leaving them. I did raise my kids in the 80’s and 90’s. My daughter is 5 years older than her brother. I used the idea that the YMCA offers a Red Cross certificate for babysitting classes for ages 11 and up.
    It’s most likely not about stranger danger. It’s about household accidents, and a child’s ability to handle illness, injury, and fire.
    In fact, my husband and I decided that regular date nights were essential for a good marriage. We courted very responsible teens by paying them well, and using them weekly. As my daughter grew older, she had a great time with kind, cool sitters who were basically caring for her little brother, and hanging out with her.
    When my daughter turned 11, she actually took that course. It was then that we left them at home alone.

    1. Exactly, it’s not really a matter of whether or not the kids will eat too many marshmallows or something. It’s about whether there is someone in the house who can take care of things in an emergency, and most kids just can’t, even if they mean well and have all the information and resources at their disposal. They also need to know how to determine what IS an emergency – if a stranger comes to the door and says they need to use the phone and it’s an emergency, is your kid going to believe them? If someone shows up in a police officer’s uniform, will it occur to them that it may or may not be a real police officer? Most kids don’t have those critical thinking skills and are (understandably) conditioned to defer to adults in positions of authority, and the ones that do have those skills might still blank out in a moment of panic or anxiety.

    2. Totally agree with you Lisa and the above reply. For all one poster quotes a book saying children need to have autonomy in all decision making- that is a ill informed. A child is considered a child as they are still developing- both physically and in frontal lobe- There are so many situations that they do not have real world experience in and should not be required to guess their way correctly in. Bottom line, we do not control our own universes- it is all well and good to assume best case scenarios always proceed. When young I had a tornado touch down where 10 minutes before the skies were blue, remember my brother losing a finger when the back door blew shut on it as the front door opened, a sudden forest fire in the nearby woods, sudden power outages, a wind storm tearing a big oak branch off and onto the garden we were playing in minutes, even an aggressive rattlesnake we disturbed in the veggie patch. None of these could have been predicted. None of these times were we doing anything against our parents guidelines but none of these were situations we were equipped to handle on our own. Sometimes you don’t have 10 minutes to drive home- or the ability to reach home. We were given plenty of independence around our rural home but the stability of knowing we had an adult to turn to to model how to handle those situations, not terrified by them. It is called parenting. They arranged babysitters or swapped time with another family with children when they needed ‘their time’. And while they fostered our independence, we always knew we were supported and not at the end of a cell phone.

  70. I was thinking there was going to be some trick and I love how you did it — win for you and win for them. We’ve done a more gradual approach with our kids. When my oldest was 8 I was comfortable leaving him home alone (we have a landline and he had my cell memorized but it was written down too) for maybe half an hour and we’ve gradually increased it. In grade 5 (age 11) he took a babysitter course through his school and we started leaving him and his then 7 year old brother alone, again starting at around 30-45 minutes and then increasing. I’m now comfortable leaving them (ages 13 and 9) on their own for 3-4 hours but not at bedtime yet.

    The key for me is they need to be able to reach a helpful adult if needed. We were recently at an Airbnb with no landline and my husband away and I wouldn’t leave them alone there since there was no way for them to contact me or vice versa if there was a problem.

    I was a very responsible 10 year old when I started being in charge walking my 7 year old brother home from school and holding the fort for an hour or so until one of my parents got home. I think daytime and nighttime have different rules but a gradual transition to more and more responsibility and independence seemed to work well for me and my brother and seems to be working well for my kids.

  71. It seems counterproductive to talk to your kids about responsibility and honesty and then lie to them like this. If they would have found you upstairs, wouldn’t it have weakened their trust in you?

    1. I’m rolling my eyes at this comment. I know you can’t seem me but I’m just letting you know.

      1. Cue the eye roll then! I wholeheartedly agree with Danielle on this. I don’t understand the whole charade passing as progressive, anti-helicopter parenting. Why not just be honest and have your “date” upstairs? Leave the kids in charge downstairs to watch their movie, make their own sundaes, etc.- no sneaking or lying necessary.

    2. I also found this a little odd. If you don’t think they’re ready to be left alone, why tell them you think they’re ready to be left alone?

  72. Did your children not hear you upstairs? My kiddos were home alone quite a bit a very young ages but if they would have heard a noise coming from a different part of the house they would have freaked out.

  73. I grew up in a small town on an island (boat or plane access only) in the 80s/90s. In the summer, we rode our bikes daily between our house and our friends about 1/4 mile down the road from about 6. The parents said, “they are on their way”- and the other house would call when we got there. Breakfast at our house and lunch at my neighbors. When we were older we had approved adventure routes.
    I’ll never forget cousins from Oregon visiting when I was about 10, brother 8, and cousins 12 & 9. My Mom gave us each a sack lunch and money for the pay phone. We took our fishing poles and bait, hopped on our bikes, and went to catch trout for the day. Our normal, but my cousins were SHOCKED. We cleaned our trout and brought them home for dinner.
    Maybe this seems strange, but my Dad taught me to use a pocketknife, clean fish, and my folks expected me to look after my little brother, and be where it was agreed I would go. We talked WAY more about how to deal with running into black bears than scary people. My cousins still talk wistfully about visiting us in the summer.

  74. My son is 4.5 now. He can practice going down the trail to my in-laws house. I call first so they are looking (listening) for him. We talk about bears, because we see black bear and it’s important for him to know (though the chances are small). He usually sings and talks to the forest on the way down. I can hear him the whole way. He is never left alone, but we are working on him following house procedures and acting right if he’s inside playing and I’m in the garden, etc. Right now, we can parallel play like that for maybe 15 minutes before checking in.
    My good friend has daughters and her oldest (11 years) came to watch my son while I was in my office doing Zoom work. The safe babysitter class is for 12 year olds and up- so she’s planning to start officially after she takes that.
    Grocery delivery saved our sanity during Covid, because just a trip to the store (where ALL the candy and toys are in impulse displays is 🤬) with. 4 year old was horrible.
    Super privileged to live in a remote location, swing a thoughtful single income lifestyle for now (daycare is $$$ compared to teaching salary), and have a husband who also prioritizes living small in a place we enjoy.

  75. I think 11 or 12 sounds appropriate depending on the child. Especially for boys like others agree. Maybe a little younger if it isn’t far away and a very short time. I still think 11-12 year olds shouldn’t be left alone for more than maybe 2 hours. It’s personal preference as well and like I said depends on the child and the area you live in as well. But any younger then maybe 10, I wouldn’t.

  76. I am reading a book right now called The Self-Driven Child and this blog post goes so perfectly with everything they are saying about the importance of giving your kids choices, atonomy and trust in all aspects of their lives, even from a young age.

  77. My parents started leaving me home alone at age 7 with my new born baby brother. This was the early 80’s. But it wasn’t that unusual. They would go out to dinner or to the grocery store. Kids are capable of a lot of responsibility if we treat them with respect.

  78. Was curious by the laws, so checked for Australia. There is no minimum age just “you’re legally obliged to make sure that your child is safe and that your child’s needs are met. You can be charged with an offence if your child is left in a dangerous situation, not fed, clothed or provided with accommodation”. My children are only 4 and 2 so we are a way off yet, but I wonder if I will be ready in 3 years. Not sure.

    1. Remember that woman in Perth who left her 2 kids (4 and 6) at home to fly to Bali and renew her passport? I mean, obviously it’s not straight forward as she didn’t seem to know anyone or speak English and must have been so desperate, but it still makes me shudder to think about.

  79. My kids are 9 and 6 and it wouldn’t even occur to me to leave them alone to go on a “date”. The 9 year old is totally fine to be left while
    we go on an errand, but beyond that this seems irresponsible to me, and, as others have mentioned, reeks of privilege. Sorry, but having your kids watch a movie or stare at an iPad while you’re out is not some admirable
    move of ‘free-range’ parenting, it’s what most of us do to cobble together some alone time! Also here in the mountains it’s the beginning of fire season, and as someone who’s had to evacuate twice, I’d seriously encourage you to consider the very real dangers of rural living. Chores are wonderful and fostering independence is essential, but 7 and 5.5 is still really young- too young to be left alone.

  80. I did not leave a child home at those ages. God only knows what could happen to one or the other. Its not worth it for 2 hours. You can teach them independence in other ways…

  81. I think this was a great idea as a way to get some alone time without having to get a babysitter but I also foresee a few problems down the road with it. When school starts in the fall, I can definitely picture your kids telling their friends that they have babysat themselves and their friends then going home and asking their parents why they can’t also babysit themselves. Since most parents would be uncomfortable letting a seven-year-old child babysit themselves, some of those parents will probably ask you about it. You’ll explain to them what you did and, eventually, either they’ll tell other parents about it, or their own kids will overhear the conversation and word will get back to your kids that they weren’t really left alone, like they thought they were. I can picture your kids being very upset about you ‘lying’ to them about this. IMO, you should tell your kids what you actually did so that they won’t have to learn the truth from somebody else. Again, I think it was a great idea but, eventually, you’re going to have to tell them the truth about the entire situation.

  82. This is really cute, but please don’t leave your babies alone while you leave the house for real. They are 5 and 7. This isn’t even close to old enough on so many levels. I let my 5 and 7 year olds play downstairs while I work upstairs for 2 hours, sure, but to go to the market or a long walk? Honestly you’ll end up in jail.

  83. Thank you thank you thank you for using your platform to promote this option! I am very pro “free range” parenting. I grew up in a small town and was home alone a lot (or while my dad was working in his home workshop). I ran cross country beginning the summer before sixth grade, so I’d get myself up a 6am, walk to the school for practice, run, then come home and hang out for a few hours until my friends woke up, then run around town all day long (and night!). While I live in the city now and couldn’t let kids run around town like I used to, I think that independence can be learned other ways and has a strong, positive impact on confidence.

  84. THank you so much for sharing this! No matter what you do, parenting is always “controversial” these days. I so loved reading this. My LO is 21 months so I’m a WAYS off from this but I have ambitions to be more of a free-range parent.
    In terms of discipline, I find that “Gentle Parenting” really resonates with me having been raised by an abusive parent, I don’t have a model. Sounds like you’re really into parenting content so I’m sure I’m not bringing up anything new. What I love about it is that is all about boundaries and consequences without punishment per se or anything that feels harsh. My heart is far too tender!

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