Leaving Your Child Home Alone — When is the Right Time?


Here are a few tips to help you determine when your child is ready to be unsupervised.

If only there was a parenting handbook to tell you the right time toleave your child home alone without supervision. As parents know, though, raising a child is far from formulaic, and decisions must be made after careful thought and consideration.

The decision to leave your child at home alone is a big one. Make sure both of you are prepared.
The decision to leave your child at home alone is a big one. Make sure both of you are prepared.

Being left home alone can be a positive experience for your child, engendering a sense of confidence, responsibility and self-awareness. But, there are also risks of an emergency or unforeseen situation to which your child may have to react.

So what is best for your child? While that’s ultimately for you to decide, we can provide recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to help you make that judgment call.

Age and Maturity
Age alone is not a determining factor — all children mature at different levels. Find out your state’s age requirements for leaving a child at home to avoid legal ramifications and then consider these questions.

  • Is your child comfortable with the idea of staying home alone, or does she seem fearful?
  • Is your child obedient, one who follows rules and makes responsible choices?
  • Is your child mentally and physically capable of taking care of himself?
  • What behaviors have you observed in your child in stressful situations?

Consider these details when deciding if it’s OK to leave your child home alone.

  • How long will your child be left at home and at what time of day? Will she need to prepare meals, and is there food available that doesn’t require use of the stove or other appliances to reduce risk of accident?
  • Will there be other children? Not all children who are ready to stay home alone are capable of caring for a younger child.
  • How safe is your neighborhood? Does your child have a key and know how to lock and unlock doors?
  • Are there adults nearby your child can go to for help if necessary?
  • Does your child know what to do if someone comes to the door?

Safety First
Your child needs to master certain safety skills before being left at home. What to do and who to contact in case of emergency should be written out and kept in an easily accessible place. Basic first aid knowledge is a plus, and first aid supplies should be readily available.

  • Does your child know where you are and how to contact you at all times?
  • Does your child know the full names and contact info for trusted adults in case of emergency?
  • Does your family have a plan in place for emergencies, and can your child follow this plan independently?
  • Does your child know his or her full name, address and telephone number.

A Few More Tips for Parents
Once you’ve determined your child is ready to stay home alone, the following may help you and your child feel more comfortable and prepared.

  • Have a trial period. Leave your child at home for a short period of time and stay close by. See how she manages.
  • Role play. Act out various situations your child could encounter. One example: what to do if a visitor comes to the door.
  • Establish ground rules. Ensure your child knows what they can and cannot do in your absence — use of electronics, the internet or  kitchen appliances, for example. Leave a list of chores or other tasks to keep him busy while you are gone.
  • Discuss emergencies. Make sure you and your child are on the same page in terms of what constitutes an emergency and what to do in various scenarios.
  • Check in. Call while you’re away to make sure things are running smoothly.
  • Maintain an open dialogue. Make sure he is OK with the idea before you leave your child alone, and discuss his feelings when you return. Be moderate. Even a child capable of being left unsupervised doesn’t need to be home alone too often for extended periods of time.

 Source: Leaving Your Child Home Alone