When can I Leave a Child Home Alone?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Parents often wonder when it is appropriate or safe to leave a child home alone. It’s always great when children are ready to progress to this point. It means possibly that kids may be able to return home after school while a parent works or that you don’t have to drag a child out with you on errands when they’d much prefer to be at home. You need to look at the “when” question here, from a couple of perspectives.

Children can become injured when home alone.
Children can become injured when home alone.

First, your country or state may have specific laws in place about when it is legal to leave a child home alone. Most of these laws set an age limit, usually from somewhere to ten or eleven years of age. Be familiar with your state or country laws regarding this, since violation of these laws could result in investigation of your fitness to be a parent.

Some children may not be prepared to be left alone, even for a short period of time.
Some children may not be prepared to be left alone, even for a short period of time.

Regardless of the age limit set by your state, it is not safe or appropriate to leave a child home alone when he or she is not fully prepared to be left. Preparation can take various forms. Your child should know how to use a telephone for instance, understand how to get out of the house in cases of emergency like fire, and understand protocol for how to handle telephone calls, strangers knocking at the door and the like. You don’t want to leave a child home alone who isn’t prepare to handle minor emergencies, or who won’t know how to act in many commonly occurring circumstances.

The reasonable approach is to train your child on what to do in these settings. For instance a child should have a list of emergency numbers by the phone if anything comes up, and your family should all learn early how to exit the house safely. Children should be aware of anything in the house they should never use without supervision, like sharp knives or the stove.

TVs should be programmed to only show child-friendly programming to avoid the curiosity of kids when you’re not there to supervise. Any medications, given the high rate of child abuse of parental prescription drugs, ought to be under lock and key. Moreover children should be fully apprised of any rules that may exist when you’re not at home, like not having guests over, what to say on the phone to people who ask to speak to parents that aren’t there, and what to do when someone knocks on the door, such as not answering.

Before you leave a child home alone for any length of time, you should have some practice runs and some role-playing. You may also want to enlist some friends your child doesn’t know to help you. For instance, you can take a shower and have a friend come over and knock on the door. See how well the child conforms to the rules under these circumstances. The first few times you plan to leave a child home alone, make your trips very short. If these first few times don’t go well, you may want to wait a few months or a year and try again.

Another thing to evaluate is your individual child. Some children are more capable or mature than others. A child with learning disabilities and things like poor impulse control might need a few more years to mature than a child without them. You should also weigh maturity if one child is left to supervise others, since giving one sibling supervisory power over others is not always the best thing to do.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I'm 11 and I stay home alone all the time. I'm not from the U.S.A or those big cities that have a lot of crime. I'm from a tiny island in the Caribbean. You might not have heard of it, but it's called Anguilla. I can't argue with you guys because I'm a kid and what do I know, but I recommend you leaving your kids home at the age of 16 and up. You don't have to listen because I'm a kid. In fact, don't listen to me -- just read this. This is just an opinion. It's my opinion. I rest my case.


It's natural for parents to be a bit anxious to leave their kids at home when no one is supervising them.

As a mother, I teach my kids on how to deal with an emergency situation, and I also registered them to “SafeKidZone”. It’s a panic button alert installed on my children’s cell phones. If in danger, they will press it so that their friends, family members and myself, including the nearest 911 will instantly be alerted. This is life-saving protection for my children.


As a mother of three all under the age of 12, I would never leave my kids at home on their own. Luckily for me I have a neighbor who is able to look after my kids but I will not leave my kids at home on their own until they are over the age of 15/16.

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