Leaving your child home alone: How old is old enough?

Summer is half over. Are you starting to hear your kids say things like, “I’ll be fine at home, I don’t need to go to camp?” When my son was 11 years old, he wanted to spend the summer home and not at day camp. My husband and I both work, and we weren’t comfortable with the idea. We sent him to camp that summer and the summer after that too, but his request did give us food for thought. We began to consider the right age to leave him home alone, especially for more than just a 30-minute trip to the store.

More than age matters

We found out that it’s not the age of the child that matters, but a child’s ability to be responsible and safe. Most kids, age 12 and older, can babysit, and most babysitting classes are targeted to this age group. A babysitting class is a great place to start, because kids learn about things like safety, first aid and handling difficult situations. This is where we started.

Your child should have skills and abilities like:

  • Unafraid to be home alone.
  • Follows house rules as a general guideline.
  • Shows common sense.
  • Keeps busy without supervision.
  • Knows how to use a fire extinguisher and first aid kit. (A babysitting class teaches both skills.)

How to prepare

Some things you should do to prepare for leaving your child home alone:

  • Make sure all locks and alarms (smoke and carbon monoxide) work.
  • Put emergency numbers by the phone or in your child’s cell phone, if he or she has one.
  • Lock up guns, ammunition, alcohol and prescription drugs.
  • Set rules about having friends over. Our rule was no friends in the house when we weren’t home. We didn’t want to take a chance that someone could be injured while we weren’t there.
  • Remind your child to keep the doors locked while he or she is home alone, and never tell anyone that his or her parents aren’t home.

Several years later, our son spent his first summer home alone. I’m proud to say he did great. He checked in with one of us a few times a day and called if he ran into a situation where he had questions. With a little education and preparation, your child will do just fine home alone.

Jennifer Hammel~ Jennifer Hammel, director, Child Abuse Prevention Fund

The Child Abuse Prevention Fund is a fundraising initiative of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Since 1988, the organization has distributed more than $10 million to support community-based child abuse prevention initiatives throughout Wisconsin.

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