The National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends that children are not to be left alone before the age of 12, and many will not be prepared until long after that. When considering an older sibling in caring for a younger child, experts have cautioned that older siblings are generally not ready for that responsibility of managing and supervising younger children until the age 15 or older.
If you are contemplating whether to allow your child to stay at home alone, some questions that families should explore before making an important decision may include:
- Does my child feel ready to be home alone in confidence and willingness?
- Does my child consistently follow the rules and guidelines of the household in order to manage the rules while being away?
- Has my child been able to exercise independent judgement and appropriate problem-solving skills in the past?
- Can my child handled unexpected events and stay calm to problem solve?
- Have I discussed with my child different scenarios that could occur while they are home alone and explore how they would handle them?
- Will my child be willing to be forthcoming in the event something occurred, and is my child generally truthful?
- Can my child demonstrate and understand basic safety rules and procedures?
- Will be child be able to make decisions to stay safe outside of being potentially influenced by other peers or adults?
- Can my child calmly provide important information, such as the home address and phone number, in the event of an emergency?
- Is my child able to physically manage safety exits, such as doors and windows?
- Can my child tell time?
- Have I developed a structured plan or routine with my child that clearly explains boundaries, limits, and expectations?
- Is my child able to independently work on tasks, such as homework?
- If there is more than one child in the home, such as siblings, can they manage to get along and solve conflicts without physically fighting or intervention from an adult?
- Have I engaged in pretend situations with myself and child in the home to practice self-care skills while pretending to be “unavailable?”
- Is our neighborhood safe, and are their neighbors that my child knows and I trust?
If you decide to leave your child alone, parents and caregivers should begin with short periods of time and progressively increase time spent away, but also staying relatively close. This may include running short errands to the store, dropping off dry cleaning, or running to the post office. Assessing your child’s comfortability and ability to handle this time frame will allow parents to make adjustments accordingly.
The incorporation of safety planning is important when allowing a child to remain home alone. Such actions to take in order to increase safety are:
- Posting all emergency contact numbers (I.e. doctor, hospital, fire department, police department, poison control) and a trusted friend or neighbor near the phone, or programmed in a cell phone.
- Identify and show the child all fire escape plans in order to get out of the house immediately, and to vacate the home in the event that the fire alarm goes off and contact the fire department from the neighbor’s or cellphone.
- Have a first-aid kit in the home, and show the child where and what is in it. Teach the child about the items and how to use them in case of an emergency.
- Make sure that you are accessible. This includes having your contact number programmed into the phone, and explaining to the child where you will be, how you can be reached, and when you will return home.
- Prepare a snack in advance to prevent the use of appliances being used to decrease risk of accident.
- If the child arrives to an empty home, request the child contact you for a check in.
- Create house rules regarding the child’s ability to:
- Leave the house
- Having friends over
- Answering phone or door
- Use of electronics and internet