Why I left my nine-year-old home alone

How do you know when they're old enough?

Why I left my nine-year-old home alone

Last time I went to see my son in the school panto, another parent asked me where my daughter was, so I 'fessed up: "At home alone, eating crisps and watching The Simpsons".

The other mother looked horrified and said "Isn't that illegal?" I presume she meant the home alone bit, as I am not aware of salty snacks or American cartoons being outlawed yet (though it wouldn't surprise me these days).

And no, Judgemental Parent, it is not illegal, as you would know if you read Catherine's post setting out the official advice here,

The rights and wrongs of leaving your children at home by themselves have been in the news a lot lately. Nova at Cherished by Me responded to this by wondering if we are turning into a Nanny State. I wonder that too. Surely these are decisions for parents to make, not the state, since we know our children best of all.

My daughter is due to start secondary school in September, and it'll be a solo bus ride away. So the more confidence and independence she has, the easier she'll find that to manage. Which is one of the reasons I've allowed her to spend time at home alone since she was nine.

At first I only did it for a few minutes whilst I nipped across the road to a neighbour's house, or popped a letter into the post box at the end of the street. Over time this has increased, and the longest I have left her is around two hours whilst I did the supermarket shop.

I didn't do it lightly and was nervous about it. I don't feel guilty about it, so why did I feel so angry and got at when the parent at the panto commented last week?

A big factor in this is that my daughter really wanted to be left alone, and was ready for it. Plus she is generally a mature and responsible child. The one who was most anxious about it was me - I wrote out my mobile phone number and made her practice using the landline to call it.

Other instructions were: No answering the door; no cooking; no wild parties with the cat. I got her to explain to me exactly what she would do in an emergency, to check that she understood and was happy with this. We live in a busy, friendly street where we know most of the neighbours, so there is always someone to call on if necessary.

But it never has been necessary - the biggest problem I have found is that my daughter gets a bit grumpy when we come back and her home alone time is over. I think we're cramping her style.

So now she's 11 and is quite happy to have some time to herself. Her brother is seven, and is noticing that he still has to accompany his parents on boring errands, whilst his sister gets to put her feet up at home in front of the TV. But though he grumbles about this, I'm in no hurry to leave him alone too. I fear that two children can get into mischief that would never occur to one by themselves. So he'll have to wait for a few more years at least.


  • Linda


    Linda Jones, Editor

    24 March, 2011

    Well said Joanne - nobody knows their own children better than parents. I understand that for most families, guidance and information about when *could* be the right time to do something is very useful but the judgement that can rain down on us from people who seem to delight in moral outrage when our children a) are in 100 yards of a telly b) are in a hundred yards of a burger c) in hundred yards of a computer game or d) by themselves in a house at the age of nine while their mum or dad nips out for a pint of milk, can astound me.

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    Hollie Smith

    24 March, 2011

    Couldn't agree more Joanne. I've started leaving my nine-year-old daughter at home on her own for little bursts now - although, like yours, she's pretty sensible. I tend to bang on about it, but at her age I was roaming the streets and letting myself in after school - and no harm came to me! *nervous tic kicks in*

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    Clare Wetton

    24 March, 2011

    As my children are still quite young, the thought of leaving them on their own fills me with horror! But you're right, that it should be when you feel your own child is ready. My son is autistic so it will probably be a long time before I leave him home alone, but I can already see my 2 year old being mature enough at 9 or 10 to be left for a bit. You know your own children and only you can make the decision. Unfortunately there's always someone who judges our actions as parents.

  • Small_blank

    25 March, 2011

    Well said, we know our children best and would never want harm come to them so would only make the decision to leave them if it was safe and they were happy with it. I suppose there are the minority that wouldn't look at these issues and therefore put their children in danger. I am sure they wouldn't follow any rules/laws anyway though.
    I remember my younger brother hating being left at home but mine love it, like your daughter I think they enjoy the space, especially as there are five of them it happens rarely. :)

  • Joanne


    Joanne Mallon

    28 March, 2011

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I think the underlying issue here is our own confidence as parents, and the extent to which we are prepared to let our children go a little. Hopefully if you trust them with a little independence then your child will respond with increased maturity. And if not, they're probably too young anyway.

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