As a parent of a school-aged child, you might wonder when it’s OK to leave your child alone for short periods of time. This question depends on the age, maturity, and development of your child as well as the laws in your state. Read on to learn more about the factors you should consider when deciding whether your child will be safe if left home alone.
Age and Maturity
While age is an important consideration, your child’s maturity level is just as important according to the federal Child Welfare Information Gateway. In general, children should never be left alone in the house before the age of 8. If your child is older than 8, ask yourself the following questions before letting him or her stay home independently:
-Can your child care for himself?
-Does he or she generally obey the rules and make the right choices?
-Does your child respond well to unfamiliar situations?
-Does your child want to stay home alone? If he or she is fearful, consider waiting six months to a year before broaching the subject again.
-Does your child know what to do in case of an emergency? Is he or she familiar with how to call 911 and what to do if the phone or doorbell rings?
How safe your child will be if left home alone depends on the circumstances. Parents should consider:
-The safety of your neighborhood
-Whether you have an alarm system, and if your child knows how to operate it
-Whether family members and friends are nearby and available in case of emergency
-Applicable house rules. For example, will your child be allowed to have friends in the house? Is TV time allowed, and how much? What chores are expected after school?
-Do you have a first aid kit?
-Are dangerous items such as prescription medications, alcohol, and firearms locked away so that your children are unable to access them?
-Is your home stocked with healthy snacks that can be prepared without using the oven?
Only three states have strict laws about the age at which a child may be left home alone. Illinois law requires children to be 14 years old to stay home alone, Maryland law states that a child can be left alone at 8, and Oregon law indicates that 10 is the appropriate age.
However, other states have guidelines and recommendations that may be helpful for parents. In general, the appropriate age to stay home alone for a few hours ranges from 8 to 12. Children younger than age 16 should never be left alone overnight.
Preparing Your Child to Stay Home Alone
If you’ve decided that your child is old enough to stay home alone based on the considerations above, there are steps you can take to ensure a safe, positive experience. Before leaving your child alone, spend time role-playing scenarios to ensure that they are aware of what to do in common situations that might arise. The first time your child stays home alone, return home after about 30 minutes. This brief trial run can provide peace of mind for both of you.
When your child is home alone, make sure you’re easily available by cell phone so he or she can reach you at any time. Write down emergency numbers, ground rules, and other key information in a place where your child can access it.
While leaving your child home alone for the first time is a big step, these guidelines can help you make the right choice for your family.