Whether it's a snow day home from school, an unexpected business appointment, or a childcare arrangement that fell through, situations are likely to arise where you feel you have little choice but to leave your child home alone.
It's natural for parents to be a bit anxious when first leaving kids without supervision. But you can feel prepared and confident with some planning and a couple of trial runs. And handled well, staying home alone can be a positive experience for kids, too, helping them gain a sense of self-assurance and independence.
It's obvious that a 5-year-old can't go it alone but that a 16-year-old probably can. But what about those school-aged kids in the middle? It can be difficult to know when kids are ready to handle being home alone. Ultimately, it comes down to your judgment about what your child is ready for.
You'll want to know how your child feels about the idea, of course. But kids often insist that they'll be fine long before parents feel comfortable with it. And then there are older kids who seem afraid even when you're pretty confident that they'd be just fine. So how do you know?
In general, it's not a good idea to leave kids younger than 10 years old home alone. Every child is different, but at that age, most kids don't have the maturity and skills to respond to an emergency if they're alone.
Think about the area where you live. Are there neighbors nearby you know and trust to help your child in case of an emergency? Or are they mostly strangers? Do you live on a busy street with lots of traffic? Or is it a quiet area? Is there a lot of crime in or near your neighborhood?
It's also important to consider how your child handles various situations. Here are a few questions to think about:
Even if you're confident about your child's maturity, it's wise to make some practice runs, or home-alone trials, before the big day. Let your child stay home alone for 30 minutes to an hour while you remain nearby and easily reachable. When you return, discuss how it went and talk about things that you might want to change or skills that your child might need to learn for the next time.
You can feel more confident about your absence if your child learns some basic skills that might come in handy during an emergency. Organizations such as the American Red Cross offer courses in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in local places like schools, hospitals, and community centers.
Before being left home alone home alone, your child should be able to complete certain tasks and safety precautions, such as:
Regularly discuss some emergency scenarios — ask what your child would do if, for example, he or she smelled smoke, a stranger knocked at the door, or someone called for you while you're gone.
Even after you decide that your child is ready to stay home alone, you're bound to feel a little anxious when the time comes. Taking these practical steps can make it easier for you both:
When you're ready to leave your child home alone for the first time, a few other steps can help both of you manage the transition.
You might have an older teen or a friend of the family come over to stay with your child. Don't call that person a "babysitter" — tell your child that the person is there to keep him or her company. You might also want to let your child invite a trusted friend of the same age to come over, and propose this as a trial run for later solo stays. Be sure to let the friend's parents know that you won't be home.
And don't forget that pets can be great company for kids who are home alone. Many kids feel safer with a pet around — even a small one, like a hamster, can make them feel like they have a companion.
So cover your bases and relax. With the right preparation and some practice, you and your child will get comfortable with home-alone days in no time!
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2013
|American Red Cross The American Red Cross helps prepare communities for emergencies and works to keep people safe every day. The website has information on first aid, safety, and more.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|When It's Just You in an Emergency In a medical emergency, kids can be heroes just by calling for help. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Choosing and Instructing a Babysitter One of your most important tasks as a parent is finding a qualified babysitter. Here are some essential tips on choosing and instructing a babysitter.|
|Internet Safety The Internet is a wonderful resource, but access to it has its hazards for kids. Here's how to make sure your child surfs the web safely.|
|About Home Alone Recipes The recipes for these simple and healthy meals and snacks are designed especially for kids to do on their own. Some of these require some help from parents on preparations. But once that's done, parents can feel safe knowing that the kids are snacking healthy, and working in the kitchen without turning on any major appliances or using sharp objects.|
|Gun Safety Guns are in more than one third of all U.S. households, so they're a very real danger to kids, whether you own one or not. Learn how to talk with your kids about gun safety.|
|When Can I Stay Home Alone in the Daytime? Find out when many kids start staying home alone for small bits of time.|
|When Can I Stay Home Alone in the Evening? Some kids are ready to stay home alone in the evening. Find out more.|
|What You Need to Know in an Emergency In an emergency, it's hard to think clearly about your kids' health information. Here's what important medical information you should have handy, just in case.|
|Healthy Habits for TV, Video Games, and the Internet TV, interactive video games, and the Internet can be excellent sources of education and entertainment, but too much plugged-in time can have unhealthy side effects.|
|Teaching Your Child How to Use 911 Teaching your child how to use 911 in an emergency could be one of the simplest - and most important - lessons you'll ever share.|
|How to Use 911 You can be a big help when someone is hurt or in danger. How? By dialing 911. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|How Can I Protect My Child From Strangers Online? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|How Can I Teach Kids to Be Smart About Strangers? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Do You Know How to Be Street Smart? Strangers are people you don't know, so you need to be careful. Read this article for kids to learn how to stay safe.|
|When It's Just You After School Are you home alone after school? If so, find out how to stay safe and keep busy until mom or dad comes home.|
|Childproofing and Preventing Household Accidents You might think of babies and toddlers when you hear the words "babyproofing" or "childproofing," but unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in kids 14 years old and under.|
|Emergency Contact Sheet The best time to prepare for an emergency is before it happens. Fill out this sheet, and post it near each phone.|
|Getting Help: Know the Numbers The best time to prepare for an emergency is before one happens. Make sure your family knows emergency phone numbers - and make sure your kids know how to place a call for help.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.