At some point in time parents face the decision of whether or not to allow
their child to be left alone. It is not always an easy decision, since there is
no magic age or formula to determine if a child is ready for this
responsibility. Many factors come into play, and the decision to allow your
child to remain alone should be based on some objective criteria, along with an
overall evaluation of the child’s maturity. By answering the questions below you
will gain some useful information about your child that can help you in making
this important parental decision.
Before allowing your child to be home alone ask yourself these questions:
- Can your child recite your telephone number and
address? Does your child know how to dial a phone number? Can your child
handle an incoming phone call?
- Can your child relay information to you about daily
events without prompting? For example, can your child explain what he/she did
in school in enough detail so that you understand?
- Is your child willing to be left alone? Does your
child often get fearful; is he/she afraid of noises or darkness?
- Is your child able to recite a procedure for handling
strangers or other people who come to the door?
- Does your child know what to do in case of a fire?
Can your child name all of the escape routes in the home?
- Is your child able to handle simple first-aid
procedures? Would your child know what to do for a nosebleed, burn, bruise or
- Is your child aware of the 911 emergency number (or
other emergency number if your area does not utilize 911) and does he/she know
what to expect if they dial that number?
- Is your child able to recite a list of household
rules that must be followed? For example, rules about matches, rules about
what in the house may be off limits to children.
- Is your child able and willing to follow directions?
For example, are chores and homework usually completed in a reasonable amount
- Has your child shown good judgement when allowed to
make decisions on his/her own? How mature is your child? Can he/she be trusted
not to lose the house keys? Can your child find something constructive to do
without direct supervision?
- If you are planning to leave siblings alone together, do you feel
confident that they can get along and will be able to resolve any conflicts
that might occur? How have they resolved issues in the past? How much parental
intervention is usually needed?
- Are you aware of your state laws in regard to leaving a child unattended?
Laws vary by state, but many states have set limits whereby it is illegal to
leave your child alone until a certain age.
If you have answered yes to the majority of these questions, your child may
have the maturity necessary to be left alone. A no answer does not automatically
mean that your child is not ready. No answers should put up some red flags and
give you some examples of things that you will need to review with your child,
before leaving him/her alone.
The first few times that you leave your child alone, it is best to do so for
short periods of time, perhaps 15-30 minutes. Always be sure that your child
knows exactly where you will be (leave written phone numbers and addresses with
them) and how long you will be gone. If you are going to be later than expected,
notify your child.
Have available for your child the phone number of someone to contact if an
emergency arises and you cannot immediately be reached. Notify your emergency
contact, so that they can be prepared to help, if needed. If you have a cell
phone or beeper be sure to write the numbers down in an accessible place in the
This tool is just one way to measure your child’s overall maturity and
readiness to be left alone. It is intended to assist you in making the decision
of whether or not to allow your child to be left alone.
Hansen, Ann, M. Ed. Home Alone. National Network for Child Care (NNCC)
U. S. Department of Education. Safe and Smart: Making After-School Hours Work
for Kids. June 1998.