How to Know When Your Kids Are Ready to ‘Babysit’ Themselves

You’ve spent thousands over the years on babysitting, and the added expense to date night could be coming to an end. Your kids are proving to be trustworthy, making the idea of letting them “babysit” themselves sound not too bad.

Still, it’s a big step. How do you know it’s time to allow them to stay at the house alone? Every situation and family are different, but here are some key factors to consider.

1. They Keep the Lines of Communication Open

When you’re away, you depend on effective communication to stay in touch with your kids. If they often ignore your calls and texts, you may be sticking with a babysitter for a while yet.

Also, some kids don’t yet have their own phones, while many households have cut ties with their landlines. If that describes your household, close the communication gap by setting your kids up with a kid-friendly phone from Troomi. Lower-tech kids phones limit internet access, focusing instead on being a means of safe, secure communication.

Set expectations with your kids about how and when they should communicate with you. If you want them to let you know when they’ve locked up for the night, make that clear. Create a list together of how and when you want to know details, listening to one another’s concerns. Remember, the kid left in charge may be nervous and want more contact at the outset. Reassure them of your availability and follow through on your end to help them build up their confidence.

2. They’re Mature Enough to Handle the Responsibility

Some kids seem wiser than their age. Others only mimic maturity as they yearn for the mystique of adulthood. While you may not want to crush their dreams about the freedoms offered by adult life, you should objectively assess their responsibility. Take a close look at how they handle age-appropriate responsibilities at home and school. Their behavior in other areas of their life can help you identify a pattern, for better or worse.

Kids who typically finish their chores and homework without much prodding may be on track to stay home alone. Test the waters by giving them the responsibility of the house while you work in the yard. Assign them a few reasonable tasks to complete and evaluate how they do. Kids who do well with these tests of their confidence and competence are likely able to stay home without adult supervision.

3. They’ve Got Basic Safety Practices Down

School may cover some basics when it comes to safety and emergency response practices, but don’t pin your hopes on that training. The rules and preferences of your family home and its inhabitants deserve a custom safety plan. Review high-risk scenarios and identify how your kids should react to them. Be mindful of how you execute this conversation, as it may be met with surprise and stress.

Reassure your kids that the goal is to be prepared for anything, knowing that the likelihood of such emergencies is rare. Write down your family safety plan to give them a reference guide.

Install a video doorbell like Arlo or Ring so your kids will know at a glance whether or not to answer the door.

Facilitate practice runs for common situations like a stranger on the doorstep, a small kitchen fire, or an injured sibling. Conducting these practices may seem silly at first, but make it a game, quizzing your kids for the right answers. With a little friendly competition, everyone will be all-in, preparing for their new stay-at-home responsibilities with ease.

4. They’re Well-Suited to Care for Younger Siblings

Staying home alone is one thing, but babysitting for younger siblings at the same time is another entirely. Siblings are notorious for fighting, ignoring one another’s directions, and acting out in defiance. If your younger kids have a known preference for rebellion, enlisting an older sibling to babysit them may be a recipe for disaster. For kids fortunate to enjoy less fighting and more playing, help prepare the older ones for supervising and meeting their siblings’ needs.

Smaller kids may require help tending to bathroom duties and evening routines. Some may require help with homework or encouragement to stay on-task. Many kids will have to have boundaries reinforced, especially with television, phones, and other electronic devices easily accessible.

Make sure all of your children understand what’s expected of them and what rules the eldest is empowered to enforce. When everyone is on the same page, evenings where kids babysit themselves can be events they look forward to.

Have a Backup Plan at the Ready

Chances are, the first time you attempt letting your kid or kids babysit themselves, there may be a slip-up. Siblings may fight, a home appliance could let loose, or one kid might break the rules. Test the waters on easily escapable plans like a quick dinner nearby or a visit with friends in the neighborhood. While you should always have open lines of communication, it’s difficult to step away if you’re attending a three-hour opera.

Enlist a trusted neighbor, family member, or babysitter to pinch-hit if necessary. Coordinate their availability beforehand and be prepared to compensate them for their on-call status. Recap the evening’s progression with your kids, discussing what can be done better next time. Commit to working together as they ease into their new responsibility, earning your trust with consistent good behavior. Over time, they’ll lean into their independence, and you’ll finally be able to relax on date nights.

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