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

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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