At what age can your child stay home alone?

Many parents wonder when their child can stay home alone. While there is not a magical answer, there are many factors to consider when making this decision with your family.

First, remember that all children mature at different rates and have varying levels of skills and abilities that should be taken into consideration when making this decision.
Second, it is important for families to consider the amount of time the child will be home alone (i.e., one half hour or an entire day).
Third, it important to know how your child feels about being home alone and how your child will handle an emergency.
Answer these questions to assess your child’s readiness to stay home alone.

  1. Is your child mature enough to handle the responsibilities of being on his or her own?
  2. Do you and your child communicate well about feelings?
  3. Can your child manage simple tasks like making a snack and taking a phone message?
  4. Has your child indicated an interest and/or a willingness to stay home alone?
  5. Does your child generally observe rules that exist in your home?
  6. Does your child spontaneously tell you about daily events?
  7. Is your child physically able to unlock and lock the doors at your home?
  8. Can your child solve small problems without assistance?
  9. Does your child know when and how to seek outside help?
  10. Do you think your child is prepared to handle an accident or an emergency?
  11. Will your child follow your household rules when you are not home?

If you answered “yes” to most of the questions, this may indicate your child is ready to stay alone.

Many parents find it helpful to allow their child to stay home alone in small increments to begin with, as a “testing period.” For instance, maybe a parent will go for a walk while their child is home for 20-30 minutes. This is a good opportunity to assess the event and to discuss how your child felt about staying home alone. As you and your child become more comfortable with your child staying home alone, it would be appropriate to gradually increase the amount of time your child is home alone.

Check back next week to learn about setting rules and teaching safety tips.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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9 thoughts on “At what age can your child stay home alone?

  1. These are some good thoughts! I have 3 children all over 15 now and all of them were “safe” to leave home alone at different ages. It just goes to show how different each child can be.

  2. Hi, I have a question. We have a 16 year old son and we are wondering what the law says about leaving the child home alone for an entire weekend or overnight. We did not know if there is a rule/law that we can review to help guide us in making this decision if needed.

    Thank you,

  3. Hello,

    Just a quick question. My daughter is 17 and her mom and I have been divorced for about 4 years. Now we encounter a conflict where we both need to travel out of the country for about 10 days to different continents and want to know if there’s any laws specifying whether she can stay home alone during that time or not. She could possibly travel with one of us but she wants to stay in the US and work. Thank you,

  4. Each state is different and each child has different levels of maturity. First, you would want to check and see if there are specific laws in your state regarding this concern. Second, since you will be out of the country you may need to find a responsible adult that could take over guardianship while you are away as she is not of legal age to make medical decisions should something happen.

  5. Hello, my granddaughter just turned 13 last month and has been watching her 3 younger brothers when they have to visit their dad on the weekends. She has been doing this since she was 11, and it is usually for at least 6 to 8 hours in the evening though early morning. He doesn’t live in a good area and usually doesn’t check up on them. Is this a legal thing?

  6. I am a single parent and I live in Iowa. My child is 16. I travel for weeks at a time. If I have a person that checks on my child daily can they stay home by themselves while I’m gone and for how long. All meals will be provided for him and he has a phone

  7. Can a 9 year old be left at home with a sibling who is 2 for an entire day while a parent is working?

  8. I live in Iowa and I was wondering if they have an age limit for kids to stay home alone

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