When Can a Child Stay Home Alone?

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When is a child ready to stay home alone? What is a good age? What are some readiness signs? What are good rules to establish?

Tween on the couch with a tablet

As your child gets older, you will start to wonder when you will be able to leave your child home alone.

There is not a magic age when every child is ready to handle the responsibility of staying home alone. Most states don’t even have a law about it.

This means parents really have to consider each individual child to see if they think they are ready for this big step in growing up.

Staying home alone is a right of passage and something every child will do at some point. It can do a lot to help your child feel mature and responsible.

But being home alone isn’t without risk; your child needs to be ready for this level of independence before you take that step.

In this post, we will discuss the appropriate ages for staying home alone, laws in your area, signs your child is ready, evaluating circumstances and context, and tips for letting your child stay home alone.

What Age Can You Leave a Child Home Alone?

As I said earlier, there is not a single age when all children are ready. Just as your baby started crawling at a different age than other babies, your child will be ready at a different age than other kids.

This isn’t a milestone that can be granted based on age.

With that said, if you look at rules and guidelines set forth by states, it can give you a good idea of what the average child can probably handle.

Most guidelines agree age 8 is the youngest to consider leaving a child home alone for any period of time. So the minimum age would be 8 if your child can handle being home without supervision.

Your child’s maturity is more important than age. There are many 10 year olds out there who are more mature than many 14 year olds.

Home Alone Laws for Kids

Most of the states in the United States do not have a law at all about when children can stay home alone.

Some have guidelines and only a couple have laws.

States With Laws

At the time of this printing, the following states have laws for when kids can stay home alone:

  • Illinois: Age 14
  • Maryland: Age 8
  • North Carolina: Age 8

The average age for states with laws is 10 years old while the most common age is 8 years old.

Note that in Oregon, there is no law for age, although it can be considered neglect to leave a child under the age of 10 home alone.

States With Recommendations

At the time of this printing, the following states have recommended the following for kids:

  • Colorado: Age 12
  • Delaware: Age 12
  • Georgia: Age 9
  • Kansas: Age 6
  • Kentucky: Age 11
  • Michigan: Age 10
  • Minnesota: Age 8
  • Nebraska: Age 7
  • New Hampshire: Age 10
  • North Dakota: Age 9
  • Oklahoma: Age 7
  • South Dakota: Age 10
  • Washington: Age 10

The average age for states with recommendations is 9 years old while the most common is 10 years old.

Signs Your Tween or Teen is Ready to Stay Home Alone

Your child will need specific skills along with a level of maturity to handle being home alone. Here are some signs your tween or teen is ready to stay home alone.

Your Child Wants To Stay Home Alone

Your child needs to want to stay home alone. If your child feels scared or uneasy, it isn’t time yet. This can be different than nervousness. Make sure you and your kiddo have an honest conversation about how your child is feeling.

Your Child is Responsible and Trustworthy

Your child must be responsible and trustworthy before you leave them home alone. They need to make good decisions and be the type of person to follow the rules. A responsible child will follow house rules.

You want your child to use good judgment in situations and have the mental ability to make good decisions.

Your Child is Aware of Others and Surroundings

You want your child to be aware of what is going on around him.

Your Child Knows Basic Safety and First Aide

Basic first aid should be known. This includes checking for breathing, assisting with choking, how to treat burns, and how to put on a bandaid. You also want your child to know how to safely use things in your home and how to lock outside doors.

Your Child Knows What to Do in an Emergency

Go over different possible scenarios and teach your child what to do. You even want to go over possible natural disasters. For example, while an earth quake is rare where I live, they can happen.

Kids need to know what to do and what not to do in various emergencies.

Go over things like a house fire and even small emergencies like a power outage.

Your Child Knows Their Home Address and Phone Number

Your child needs to know her address and telephone number in case of an emergency. She also needs to know your phone number so she can get ahold of you. Your child should know her full name, also.

Your Child Knows How to Make Phone Calls

Emergencies happen, even with the best planning and with careful rule-following. Your child needs to know how to make a phone call in case it is needed for any reason.

He needs to know how to get ahold of you. He needs to know how to dial 911 or to call a neighbor for help.

Circumstances and Context of Leaving Your Child Home Alone

Along with the signs listed above, there are a lot of circumstances and contextual situations to consider.

  • How long will the child be home alone? Being home alone for 30 minutes is very different than 3 hours. Your child might be able to handle a short period but not a long length of time.
  • What time of day will your child be alone? Is there a time that is better than another?
  • How safe is your neighborhood? You can never guarantee that a safe neighborhood will always be safe, but there are definitely some neighborhoods you would feel more comfortable leaving a child home alone in more than others.
  • Do you have neighbors who will be a point of contact? This goes along with the safety of the neighborhood, but if you have a neighbor who will be home and is willing to have your child reach out if needed, that makes leaving the child home alone easier to do.
  • Will your child need to prepare a meal? Adding any type of meal prep or eating adds risk to being alone.
  • How safe is your home? Do you have an alarm system? Do you have working smoke detectors and smoke alarms? Do you have chemicals, medication, alcohol, and firearms stored away from the reach of kids/ Do you have a pool?
  • How far away would you be? How quickly could you be home if needed?
  • Will there be younger siblings home? Watching younger siblings and making sure they follow the rules is much harder than just keeping track of yourself.

Rules to Establish

Just like any other freedom your child has earned or attained in life, you want to start slowly with staying home alone. You will want to initially establish specific rules that keep your child’s boundaries tight while staying home alone. Here are some rules I suggest.

  • No opening the door. My kids are not allowed to answer the door even if it is a very friendly neighbor. They are not allowed to answer it. My neighbors know we have this rule.
  • No friends allowed. In the early years of your child staying home alone, I recommend you do not allow friends to be over. Your child needs to show that they can be trusted to follow the rules; adding a peer always puts following rules at risk. I really do not allow friends to be over until teen years. Initially, I am pretty picky about who can be over and who cannot. I need to know the friend well and trust the friend to follow our rules.
  • Stay inside the house. I feel like playing outside adds more risk than is needed when kids are home alone. Injuries often happen outside, doors can get unlocked, and your child can talk to random people when they are outside.
  • Keep doors locked. Make sure your child knows how to use locks on doors and windows.
  • Technology rules. Establish the technology rules for while you are not home. What can be watched? What video games can be played? How long can technology be used?
  • No eating. When my kids first start staying home alone, we have the rule that no eating is allowed. Our kids do not stay home alone when they first start and we do not leave the kids over a meal time. I feel like allowing food adds an element of risk that is unnecessary in our circumstances. You definitely do not want your child using a stove without you home until they are much older. If you do allow eating, make it clear what appliances are allowed to be used and what are not.
  • If you want to do something that hasn’t been discussed, get permission. Make sure your child knows anything out of what has been established must be discussed. If your child cannot get ahold of you, the answer is no.

Tips for Parents

Here are some additional tips for parents to follow when having their child firs start staying home alone.

  • Have specific rules. I gave several ideas above. Make sure you go over the rules with your child and make sure he understands them. Spell everything out clearly.
  • Have a home phone. In our modern-day, most people do not have a home phone. Make sure you have a phone at home your child can use. Your child needs to be able to get ahold of you, a neighbor, an emergency contact, and emergency services. You might be able to use an iPad or tablet. You can also use the cell phone of one parent home or get a family “home phone”.
  • Consider enrolling in babysitting classes. Even if your child will not be watching another child, there are a lot of safety skills taught in a babysitting class. The Red Cross has a safety class, also.
  • Write down all information. Even if your child has things memorized, it is a good idea to write things down for emergency situations. This includes phone numbers and home address. I think we all know how the mind can go blank in an emergency situation. Write things down and post it where your child can easily see it.
  • Start with short periods of time. Do not leave your child home alone for the first time for hours, even if your child is on the older side. Start with 30-60 minutes at the most.
  • Stay close by. Be able to get home quickly if your child needs you to. Be close and be in a flexible situation you can leave.
  • Make sure your child knows where you are. Tell your child where you will be and when you will be home. Make sure your child knows how to contact you.
  • Ask a neighbor to be on call. If you have a neighbor you can count on, ask your neighbor to be on call in case of emergency.
  • Check in with your child to make sure everything is okay.
  • Have your child watch a movie. Kids tend to stay out of trouble when they watch a movie. Start a movie before you leave.
  • Role play before you have your child stay home alone. After you have gone over rules and expectations, practice and role play. Practice emergencies. Practice knocking on the door and having your child ignore it. This is the process of Ask and Tell that we have been using for years.
  • Discuss how things went. Talk with your child to see how she felt about it and how things went. Was it a positive experience? If staying home alone is causing anxiety, take a break.
  • Do not advertise that your child is home alone. It is wise to let a trusted neighbor know, but do not post to social media that your child is alone.

Conclusion

There are many scenarios when you might want to leave child home alone. You might want to go on a date with your spouse. You might need to go to a meeting. You might want to get groceries without kids. Your child might want to stay home while you run a sibling to practice. You might get home from work an hour after school gets out. You might have some conflicts in the summer that necessitate it.

Whatever the reason, be sure your child is ready, has clear rules, and knows the rules before you start to leave your child home alone.

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