Most states do not have specific age restriction laws, although a lot of states do have recommended guidelines. These guidelines and childcare manuals want parents to use their best judgment. Most use age 12 or 13 as a general guideline, but that depends on the individual child.
There are many points to consider when leaving your child/children home alone for the first time.
Do they generally make good decisions? Do they obey house rules? Are they scared or uncomfortable with the thought of being by themselves? Is your child mentally and physically able to care for him/herself? Are they able to get their own snacks, do homework instead of watching TV or playing video games, etc.? How long will you be gone? Will it be day time or night time? Will there be more than one child? How well do they get along? Will the younger one listen to the older one? Is the older one capable of taking care of the younger one? Do you live in a decent neighborhood with friendly/helpful neighbors that your child knows? Are there hazards in your home? Do you have working smoke alarms? Can your child give their name, address, age, and phone number to an emergency operator in case of an emergency? Does your child know your fire escape plan? Does your child know how to get in contact with you or your spouse? Do you have contacts for your child in case you can not be reached?
After careful consideration of these points there are several things you can do to help prepare your child and yourself for the first time alone.
Role play different situations your child may encounter (someone coming to the door, answering the phone, what to do if someone gets hurt, if there is a fire). Discuss how your child feels about being alone? Are they okay after a trial run or did it not go well? Set rules and go over them frequently. Some rules may include: don’t answer the door, don’t tell anyone you are by yourself, don’t get into things you aren’t supposed to (matches, cleaners, etc.), do your homework, chores, etc. Inform them of the dangers, but try not to be overdramatic and scare your child. Only do it once in a while, look into other options if it is going to be frequent (you have a permanent shift change at work). Check with the YMCA, schools, youth groups, churches, etc. for more permanent before/after school options.
If a child is ready to stay at home by themselves, it can boost their self confidence. Make sure you check out local laws because some cities or towns differ from state laws. Depending on these laws though, leaving a child alone could be considered neglect. Especially if you leave your child for too long, too frequently, they are too young, or you leave them in danger. Check out this page to see your state’s recommendations, Latchkey Children Age Restrictions By State
The best thing is to start small (a short trip to run an errand) and see if you both survive. Then you can increase the length of time if everyone is comfortable with the situation. It can be a scary decision, if something happens to your child, you would never forgive yourself. However, it can be an important step for your child to learn to live independently. It will help them learn to function by themselves which will only benefit them later in life (think moving away to college).