When can a child stay home alone?

Not all kids are ready to stay home by themselves at a magic age. Discover how to know when your child is ready for the transition.

In a society where both parents need to work and daycares will only take in children after school up to a certain age, the decision to let your child stay at home alone can be difficult to make. If you just need a few hours to run some errands, have a dinner date, or conduct business meetings outside of the home, these may be times that letting your child stay home alone would be the best scenario. Or, is it? Letting a child stay at home alone is not solely based on the child’s age, but more on their level of maturity and comfort to handle the situation properly.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Does your child listen to commands well?
Does your child obey house rules?
Does your child seem receptive to the idea of staying home alone?
Does your child know emergency numbers and how to reach you in case of an emergency?
Can your child handle making snacks for himself?
Is there someone you trust close by that your child can reach if need be?
Do you trust your child’s behaviour when left alone?

Tips to Help Assure Safety

Children who live in a safe neighbourhood are better suited to stay home alone.
Review all the rules with your child and let them ask questions to be sure they understand all of them.
Post emergency numbers where they are visible to the child.
Children who know how to stay calm in an emergency situation will probably do well.
It is a good idea to have a trusted contact in the neighbourhood that can get to your child quicker than you in case of an emergency.
Have a First-Aid kit that easily accessible to the child.
Listen to your child if they tell you that something has made them uncomfortable about being home alone.

Ways to Transition to Home Alone

Plan short trips away from home starting at about 15 minutes in length. Each time you leave your child alone, make it an additional 15 minutes. This will assess if your child feels comfortable being alone.
Have a set routine drawn out for your child of what you expect them to do with their time, especially if coming home alone after school. Make sure homework gets done and give them chores to help keep them busy and productive.

It is best not to allow friends over during these times. It gives way to too much temptation to get into trouble, especially if your child is not assertive enough to say to a friend when something is wrong.
Talk with your child about how they feel being left alone. If they has any reservations about it, do not force staying home alone upon them. Make other arrangements for their care until they feel comfortable.

Some kids take to it straight away but others need more time. Also bear in mind that leaving them at home alone for a few hours first thing in the morning after breakfast is very different to leaving them at night time and some children will not be comfortable being home alone when it gets dark. Communication, good behaviours and strict rules work well to ensure a safe transition and a build-up of trust. Also, make sure you come home when you say you will so that they do not worry about you.