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I know, it’s exhausting to fend off complaints from your kids every time you need to run to the store. But you can’t make decisions based on their whines. (Plus, if they’re not mature enough to spend an hour in the store without complaint, they’re probably not mature enough to handle unsupervised time at home.)

So despite what your kids say, they’re too young to stay home together. Though they’d likely just be playing video games, you have to consider how they’d react in an emergency.

Instead of leaving both kids alone from the get-go, start by leaving your 11-year-old home by himself for an hour or so. Set out emergency contact info (including a trustworthy neighbor’s number), plus rules like calling you if he’s unsure about something, not answering the door, and not doing anything dangerous (like using the oven). After six months or so of staying home by himself and proving his responsibility, he might be ready to supervise an 8-or 9-year-old sibling—while you run errands in peace.

—Susan Bartell is a psychologist specializing in family-life balance, and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask.



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