At some point, you’re bound to ask yourself: Is my child ready to stay home alone? Giving kids the responsibility to stay home alone can be a positive and confidence building experience, a rite of passage. But how do you know they’re ready? Children must have the skills and maturity to handle being on their own safely.
There’s no magical age that determines a child is ready to be left alone, but kids who are ready show the following signs:
- Wants to stay home alone and isn’t fearful being alone in the house
- Shows good decision making
- Demonstrates awareness of others and his surroundings
- Proves himself to be responsible and trustworthy
- Knows his home address and phone number, as well as how to get in touch with parents
- Can make a snack for himself
- Knows how to use a phone, call a neighbor for help and dial 911
- Follows simple rules and instructions
- Knows basic first aid
Leaving kids home alone for the first time is a big step. Even if your child is not planning to take a job as a babysitter, consider enrolling him in a babysitting class. The skills taught there can be very useful for kids who are beginning to stay home alone.
And once you believe he is ready, here’s how you can prepare your child for success:
Go Over the Rules
Are friends allowed to come over? Is the child allowed to leave the house? Are there cable channels she is not permitted to watch? Go over these and any other family rules and make it clear that your child understands.
Discuss Possible Situations
If someone comes to the door, what should she do? If the phone rings, should she answer? How should she respond if someone asks to speak to you? A good response is, “She’s busy right now. Can I take a message?”
Review Kitchen Safety
Make sure your child knows how to use kitchen appliances and tools and discuss what she is allowed to make in the kitchen. Only cold snacks? Is she allowed to use the microwave?
Prepare for Emergencies
Does your child know what to do in case of smoke or a fire? What should she do if there are severe storms? Does your child know basic first aid? Post emergency phone numbers and contact information so she has it in case of an emergency. Discuss who to contact if you are unreachable (a neighbor, family member or friend).
Create a List of Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t play with matches or lighters. Don’t let anyone in the house. Don’t leave the house, except for an emergency. Do call and check in when you get home from school. Do work on homework and chores. Each family is different and will have its own list of what’s expected.
Act out different scenarios that may arise. Pretend that your child needs to reach you; what will she do? How will she call 911? What should your child do in case of a fire? Pretend the phone rings; how should she answer? By walking through different situations, kids can be better prepared in case the unexpected happens.
Begin by leaving your child for a short 15 to 30 minutes at a time and slowly increase. Talk about any questions or problems that may have arisen. Ask your child about her feelings when home alone. If your child is fearful, she may not be ready to be on her own.
Sarah Lyons is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in over 100 parenting publications.
Begin by leaving your child for 15 to 30 minutes at
Go over any family rules and make sure your child understands.