Children Home Alone

It is estimated that 40% of children and adolescents are left home alone at some time. One of the realities in our society is that we can’t always be there with our children. Many parents must go to work and leave their children home alone or with their siblings. Parents need to consider the potential risks and dangers of leaving children unsupervised before they make this very important decision.

Whether we are talking about a very young child or a teenager, children need to be supervised by a responsible adult. If you can’t be there physically to supervise your child it is important to find ways to give him or her the feeling of being supervised. It is also important to make sure rules are understood and guidelines to keep safe are discussed.

Some important guidelines to keep in mind include:
  • Setting firm rules with clear do’s & don'ts
  • Prepare your child to handle various situations that may arise
  • Specify how his or her time is to be spent
  • Make sure your home is safe & secure
  • Limit the time you are away as much as possible
  • Keep in touch!
  • Make sure your child can reach you (work phone, cell phone, pager, etc.)
  • Be unpredictable at times. If a teen thinks you may come home at any time they may be less likely to do something they wouldn’t want you to come home and catch them doing!
Parents need to consider not only a child's age but also their maturity level before considering leaving them home alone. It is also important to keep in mind that even though a child may be older and mature enough to take care of themselves, unsupervised they may get into other trouble that is not so much of a concern with a younger child.

Short test runs may help you assess whether your child is ready to be left home alone. Try leaving them home for a short time and discussing it with them when you return. If they do well you can lengthen the time away little by little and see how they respond.

Some questions to consider in helping you decide if your child is ready:
  • Does the child feel comfortable about being home alone?
  • Do YOU feel comfortable about the child being home alone?
  • Can the child follow rules responsibly?
  • Does her/she remember instructions whether written or oral?
  • Does the child find things to do constructively without getting into mischief?
  • Can the child handle normal unexpected situations?
  • Are you able to communicate readily with him or her when you are not at home?
  • Can the child always reach someone to help in case of emergency?
* Although most states do not have specific laws about when a child can be left home alone it is important to check with child protective services for guidelines or recommendations.

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