Child Supervision Recommendations

All parents eventually face the decision to leave their child home alone for the first time. Whether they are just running to the store for a few minutes or working during after-school hours, parents need to be sure their children have the skills and maturity to handle the situation safely.

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Things to Consider

Unattended children of any age can get hurt or even killed without proper supervision. As a parent, you may wonder at what age your child can be left unsupervised. The following are some things to consider before leaving your child home alone:

  • Age and maturity of your child
  • Availability of a parent, guardian or caretaker by phone or in person
  • Child’s awareness of how to react to an emergency situation (examples: fire, severe weather, injury to self or others)
  • Health status of your child
  • Child’s awareness of the dangers of appliance use (examples: stove, iron) or unusual hazards in the home
  • Child’s reaction to being left alone

Age-Specific Recommendations

  • 7 years and under - Should not be left alone for any period of time, including in cars, yards or playgrounds
  • 8 to 10 years - Should not be left alone for more than 1.5 hours and only during daylight/early evening hours
  • 11 to 12 years - May be left alone for up to 3 hours, but not at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility
  • 13 to 15 years - May be left unsupervised but not overnight

Always Plan for Your Child’s Safety

Develop a safety plan to practice with your child and always follow the below safety tips. Make sure your child understands these potential dangers and how to avoid them:

  • Fire and medical emergencies
  • Household hazards such as matches, cleaning solutions, drugs, stoves and swimming pools
  • Knives, guns and other weapons
  • Strangers and visiting friends
  • Create a plan for responding to these dangers and practice it with your child
  • Make sure your child knows who to call in case of an emergency

When going out without your child:

  • Call a reliable babysitter, friend or family member to watch the child
  • Provide meals not requiring the use of an oven, stove or microwave
  • Leave an emergency number so you can be contacted quickly

Younger children:

  • Keep children in eyesight when possible
  • Use a room monitor to listen for them while they are sleeping or napping
  • Be present with children in bathroom, bathtub and kitchen
  • Do not leave children alone while talking on the phone or doing activities

When shopping:

  • Supervise your child at all times
  • Plan your shopping times when you have someone reliable to help watch your child or babysit
  • Always take your child with you when leaving the car

Taking your child with you when leaving the car prevents:

  • Heat or cold exposure
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Kidnappings
  • The child being physically injured by a window, door, car lighter or other vehicle parts
  • The child being injured or harmed by accidentally placing the car in gear
  • Siblings harming each other while left unattended in a vehicle

Tips for Parents

Once you have determined that your child is ready to stay home alone, the following suggestions may help you to prepare your child:

  • Have a trial period - Leave the child home alone for a short time while staying close to home.

  • Role play - Act out possible situations to help your child learn what to do such as how to manage visitors who come to the door.

  • Establish rules - Make sure your child knows what is (and is not) allowed when you are not home. Set clear limits on the use TV, electronic devices and the Internet.

  • Discuss emergencies - What does the child consider an emergency? What does the parent consider an emergency? Have a code word that the parent and child can use in the event of an emergency.

  • Check in - Call your child while you are away to see how it’s going, or have a trusted neighbor or friend check in.

  • Talk about it - Encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you about staying home alone.

  • Don’t overdo it - Even a mature, responsible child shouldn’t be home alone too much. Consider other options, such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations, or faith-based organizations, to help keep your child connected, safe and involved.