When Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?

When Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?

Use this easy-to-navigate guide to determine when kids are ready to babysit themselves.


Waiting for the day when you can head out for the evening — or even run to the grocery store — without worrying about shuffling schedules or hunting for a last-minute babysitter? Although your child can legally be left alone at a certain age (different states have different laws so check yours), knowing when she’s mature enough is just as important. Here are some guidelines to consider.

Being capable of behaving without parental supervision has more to do with maturity and logic than with age — and every kid matures at a different pace. As a general rule of thumb, grade-schoolers should not be left to supervise young children, but older kids — 11- or 12-year-olds — may be able to be left on their own for a short time, say an hour or so. Most middle-schoolers should be able to be left to their own devices for a few hours at a time but, ultimately, only you as a parent can decide if your child is up to the task. Chances are, she’s just as eager to stay home by herself as you are to have her do so. To gauge if she’s ready, ask yourself these critical questions:

  • Is my child good at following directions?
  • Does she exhibit responsibility? Is she apt to do chores like clearing the table or walking the dog without being told?
  • Is she proactive about doing her homework?
  • Does my child use good judgment, or does she frequently find herself in sticky situations?
  • Does she know what to do in case of an emergency?
  • Has she proven that she knows how to deal with strangers?

If you answered “no” or “I’m not sure” to any of these questions, you’ve got some work to do before you let her hang solo at home. Together, practice being more independent, cautious and aware of her surroundings. Quiz her so she’s forced to recite from memory what to do should she smell smoke or if she finds a toilet overflowing. (If you get the sense that she’d panic rather than perform under pressure, she’s probably not ready to be home alone.)

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If you do end up heading out, post key contact numbers in a central spot — like the kitchen refrigerator — and in your child’s phone directory if she has her own cell phone. She should be familiar with operating any telephone, however.

Be sure she knows:

  • How and when to call 9-1-1
  • Her address and your contact info
  • How to work any alarm system (and deal with it, should it go off)
  • What kitchen equipment and appliances are approved for usage and how to properly operate
  • What to do if there’s smoke or the power goes out
  • How to handle a stranger at the door or a prank phone caller

Before you head out on a big Saturday night date, give her a couple of trial runs when you head out for a quick errand, gradually increasing the time she’s on her own. No barrage of text messages? The dog was fed? She didn’t even notice you were gone? Then you’re in business!

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