Summer the perfect time to practice home-alone skills

Some advice on dieting and physical activity.

Christina Rittenbach
Christina Rittenbach, extension agent, Family and Consumer Sciences division of the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Stutsman County.
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As this school year is winding down, many parents are thinking about what their children will be doing this summer while they are at work. Some parents may be getting ready to give their children a bit more responsibility and freedom by allowing them to stay home alone for a bit this summer. Summer is the perfect time to practice home-alone skills and can help parents determine if their children are ready to stay home alone after school for the next school year, as well.

North Dakota guidelines for children staying at home alone allow 9-year-olds to take on this responsibility for up to two hours during daylight hours, but there is much more to this important decision than age alone.

Are your children prepared for the many situations that may arise? Are they mature enough? Would they know what to do if they came home after school and the door was unlocked? Are they emotionally ready? Will they be too frightened to stay home alone?

Also, consider children’s physical and cognitive abilities. Are they able to think on their feet if a pet gets out of the house? Can they safely reach the microwave to heat a snack? Think about the location of the home and proximity to a trusted adult who could help if your children were in trouble.

According to , children must be able to get home from school safely; use keys or a code to get in the door and lock it once inside; know their full name, phone number and address in case of emergency; have access to and know how to use the phone; and know when and how to call 911 or a trusted adult for help. Do they know how to safely make a snack, do homework on their own, follow simple rules, do basic first aid and understand how to tell time?


Encourage your children to discuss their feelings about being home alone. If they are afraid, talk about it, practice being away for only 10-15 minutes at a time and be open to making care arrangements if your children are not ready to stay home alone without fear.

Establish rules. This avoids confusion about what you expect and adds to the children’s sense of security. Consider how they will check in with a parent when they arrive home after school. Can the parent take a call at work? Are the children allowed to use the internet, video games and movies? Discuss food, chores, friends, appliances, activities and other possible scenarios, and write out responses.

Have your children practice being in charge while you are outside in the yard or taking a nap. When you and your children feel confident, start by running errands close by and work up to a two-hour time frame. Review the home-alone time each time you return so you can address any issues and make a plan for the next time.

For additional information, see the North Dakota Department of Human Services and Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota brochure “Home Alone: Is Your Child Ready?” at or contact Christina Rittenbach, Stutsman County Extension agent, at (701) 252-9030 or

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