Leaving Children at Home Alone

There is no magic age when a child is ready to stay by him/herself. All children are different, but the National Safe Kids Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left at home alone. Whether children are home every day after school or once in a while when parents need to run errands, the experience can be made safer by considering the following:

  • How does the child feel about the situation?
  • Look at her age in relationship to her growth behavior and judgment.
  • What are the responsibilities your child will be left with? Will she be able to handle those responsibilities?
  • How long will she be left alone? The first few times should be quite short. You will be able to stay away longer once she feels more confident about her safety.
  • What are the safety risks if your child is alone? (Fires, accidents, burglaries, etc.)
  • Can your child say no to peer pressure if friends encourage her to break the rules in your absence?
  • Remove fire hazards and install smoke detectors. Hold fire drills with each child "practicing" what she is to do and where she is to go.
  • Teach the children basic first aid and have a first aid kit available.
  • Have the children rehearse emergency (911) calls giving their full address and directions if necessary.
  • Establish ground rules to avoid confusion about what you expect and to add to the child’s sense of security. Careful planning can help insure physical safety and emotional well-being for your child.
  • Review safety rules such as not playing with matches, knives or scissors, and have a clear understanding about use of ovens, stoves and other appliances.
  • Instruct children not to tell callers they are alone. They should say that the parent is busy and offer to take a message. If a call seems suspicious, they should call you or another adult.
  • Be sure to tell children not to allow strangers into the house.
  • Set up an emergency plan with a relative, friend or neighbor who may be unable to care for your child but who would be willing to be called by the child for advice and reassurance in "small emergencies" when you are unavailable by phone.
  • Post the house address and important phone numbers near the telephone.
  • Establish a daily routine in which your child calls you or the designated person when she arrives home.
  • If your child comes home after school, give her keys and an attractive key chain. The keys should be carried out of sight so that the child isn’t easily identified as being on her own.
  • Provide at-home projects and materials as well as juice and nutritious snacks.
  • Arrange some after school activities such as clubs, scouts, sports or library. If you need help with transportation, make arrangements to trade weekend driving or sitting with other parents.
  • Afterward, praise your child for doing a good job. You may be pleasantly surprised at how readily and how well she assumes responsibility when prepared and given the opportunity.