When is it okay to begin leaving your child at home alone? The answer really is different for every child. In general, children under 10 should not be left on their own, and babies and younger children should not be left alone even for a few minutes. Before leaving your kids at home alone, make sure that they are mature enough to be on their own (even if only for a few hours).
Here are some questions to ask yourself.
- Is your child at least 10 years old?
NOTE: Please check local laws to be certain your state has not set a higher age limit for children staying home alone.
- Does your child feel at all frightened or apprehensive about staying home alone?
- Does your child follow your instructions and your rules?
- Can you count on your child to tell you the truth?
- Can your child be counted on to stay clear-headed in an unexpected or emergency situation?
- Can your child calmly dial 911, give their full name (and yours), street address and phone number, and explain the situation?
You might feel most comfortable starting out with short trial runs, leaving your child home alone for 15 minutes or so and gradually increasing the amount of time your child spends alone. Take it slowly, staying within the comfort level of both you and your child.
Here are some measures you can take that will help to protect your kids even when you are not around:
- Let your kids know exactly what you expect of them – discuss your house rules.
- Make sure you have a list of important numbers where your child can find it. Check out our helpful list, print it and post it on the fridge.
- Review basic safety rules on a regular basis.
- Discuss how to respond in the event of an emergency situation, and role play responses.
- You might like your child to attend a Latchkey Kids Program along with a Basic First Aid Course. Check you local hospitals, YMCA or library to learn about programs in your area.
- Explain that you expect your child to come straight home from school, and to call you if there is any delay.
- Remind your child to never accept a ride.
- Ask your child to call you or a trusted neighbor as soon as he gets home from school.
- Instruct your child not to enter your house if the door is open, unlocked, or if anything seems unusual.
- Remind your child not to answer the door (without your prior approval) – Install a peephole at his eye level.
- Instruct your child that he should never let someone at the door or on the phone know he is alone.
- Be sure you feel that your child can comfortably handle using the telephone, operate the security system/door, and can safely use any appliances they might be using after school.
- Be sure you have a working fire extinguisher and your child knows how to operate it (and you have smoke detectors with fresh batteries appropriately placed throughout your house.)
- Plan escape routes and meeting place outside your home in case of fire.
- Ask that your child let you know immediately if anything makes them uncomfortable or frightened.