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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.