If you are wondering about leaving your child home alone, be aware that a few states have laws about at what age a child can be left alone. Be sure you know if your state has such laws.
Important questions to consider before leaving your child home alone (from the Child Welfare Information Gateway):
- Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
- How does your child respond to unfamiliar or stressful situations?
- Will there be other kids? How many and how old?
- Does your child know what to do if a visitor comes to the door?
- How safe is your neighborhood?
- Does your child know his or her full name, address, and phone number?
- Does your child know where you are and how to contact you and other trusted adults at all times?
Important recommendations for how to leave your child home alone (from the Child Welfare Information Gateway):
- Have a trial period. Leave the child home alone for a short time while staying close to home. This is a good way to see how he or she will manage.
- Role play. Act out possible situations to help your child learn what to do, such as how to manage visitors who come to the door or how to answer phone calls in a way that doesn’t reveal that a parent is not at home.
- Establish rules. Make sure your child knows what is (and is not) allowed when you are not home. Set clear limits on the use of television, computers and other electronic devices, and the internet. (Contact your service provider to learn how to set parental controls.) Some experts suggest making a list of chores or other tasks to keep children busy while you are gone.
- Discuss emergencies. What does the child consider an emergency? What does the parent consider an emergency? Have a code word that the parent and child can use in the event of any emergency.
- Check in. Call your child while you are away to see how it’s going or let them know they’ll have a trusted neighbor or friend check in on them.
- Talk about it. Encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you about staying home alone. Have this conversation before leaving your child and then, when you return, talk with your child about his or her experiences and feelings while you were away. This is particularly important when your child is first beginning to stay home alone, but a quick check-in is always helpful after being away.
- Don’t overdo it. Even a mature, responsible child shouldn’t be home alone too much. Consider other options, such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations, or faith-based organizations, to help keep your child connected and involved.
- Follow up. After a child is left home alone, talk about his or her experience. How did he or she feel about it? Was your child nervous? Did anything unexpected come up? If the child was watching a younger sibling, ask how he or she felt about doing so.