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There will be a time when you hear the words you may not quite be ready for. “May I stay home by myself?” Parents often have mixed feelings about leaving their children home alone. The internal questions start: “Is my child old enough to stay home alone?” “Is it the right time?” Leaving your child at home for an hour after school, or for longer periods of time, is a decision that takes a lot of consideration. You will want to know if there are regulations in your area regarding when a child can stay at home without adult supervision. To learn more about regulations in your area, visit Latchkey-kids.com.
As with any developmental event, it’s important to remember that every child develops and matures at a different rate. Below, you will find items of consideration adapted from Leaving Your Child Home Alone from the Child Welfare Information Gateway. When you are reviewing these considerations, think about how the information relates to your child.
Age and Maturity
When and how long or how often you choose to leave your child home may determine how well he/she does with the task.
Setting expectations regarding specific safety skills needed for your child to stay home alone is a must. Your child should know what to do in an emergency and who to contact. Safety courses are available from community organizations.
If you are comfortable with your responses above and feel that your child is ready to stay home alone, try the following:
Have a trial period. Let your child stay home, while you are in the neighborhood. This will give you an idea of how ready your child really is.
Role play. To help your child learn what your expectations are, have a little fun. Act out various scenarios and quiz your child on how he/she should handle each one.
Establish rules. It is important that your child knows, and follows, the rules you put in place for times when you are not at home. You may even want to make a list of chores or tasks for your child to tackle while you’re out.
Check in. While you are out, call your child to see how things are going. If there’s a neighbor or friend you trust, ask them to check in if you’re not able to.
Talk about it. Encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you.
Don’t overdo it. Don’t use this option as the go-to option for your child. Look for other options in your community such as after school programs, community centers, youth organizations, or churches. These programs often offer activities that will keep your child busy and involved in something fun.
Additional resources suggested by Child Welfare Information Gateway include: