Is your child ready to stay home alone?
11/3/2022 by Renee Breland, APRN, C.N.P., M.S.
With fall here and many children back in school, a common question I get in my pediatric practice is "when is my child old enough to stay home alone for a few hours after school?" This is not an easy question to answer. You have a lot to consider when evaluating your child's readiness to stay home alone.
Questions to ask include:
- What is your child's age and maturity level?
- Does your child have any intellectual or psychological issues, mental health concerns or physical problems, such as an illness or a disability?
- How easily can you or an emergency contact be reached? Can your child reach emergency contacts by phone or in person when home alone?
Leaving children home alone involves some risk. The goal is to avoid situations that could put a child at risk physically or emotionally. Do whatever you can to lower these risks.
The ages shared here are general guidelines. To stay home alone, many children may need to be older than the ages in these guidelines. For some children, this decision depends on whether an adult will be nearby and whether the child will be caring for other children at home with them.
Here are general age guidelines to help you make your decision:
- Under the age of 8 should never be left alone for any period of time.
- Ages 8 to 10 may be left alone for less than three hours, but should never be responsible for younger siblings.
- Ages 11 to 13 may be left alone for less than 12 hours. Often, children of this age should start with 2–3 hours and build up to longer periods of time based on their comfort and individual needs.
- Ages 14 to 15 may be left alone for less than 24 hours.
- Ages 16 to 17 may be left alone for a longer time if there is a plan in place about how to respond to an emergency.
It's a big responsibility for a child to stay home alone. With the appropriate preparation and thoughtful consideration, it can be a successful experience for your child. Do not hesitate to reach out to your child's primary care team for additional guidance, advice on how to prepare your child and recommendations surrounding this decision.
Renee Breland, APRN, C.N.P., M.S., is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Integrated Community Specialty Pediatric Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Clinic and a Community Pediatric and Adolescent general pediatric practitioner at Mayo Family Clinic Northeast in Rochester, Minn.