How to know when your child is ready to stay home alone

Many kids come home after school to empty houses, and for a new set of tweens, this school year will mark the first time they are allowed to do this.

As parents, we know once kids reach middle school they become more independent and responsible for making the right decisions to keep themselves safe. But how do you know when your child is ready to stay home alone?

4 common misunderstandings we hear from parents

Below are four statements we commonly hear from parents that often concern us. For each, I have provided some guidance to help start your family’s conversation about your child’s preparedness to stay home alone.

1. “I can’t wait for my child’s next birthday so he can stay home alone.”

Most experts recommend that children should be at least 11 to 12 years of age before they are developmentally ready to stay home alone. But age is only one guideline. You, as a parent, are the only one who can assess your child’s maturity, comfort level and overall readiness. It’s important to make sure you and your child are on the same page. If he expresses worry, he may not be ready. When he is willing to try it, staying home alone can help build confidence and independence. Start by leaving your child home for a short amount of time, and extend that time as everyone becomes comfortable.

2. “I do not let my child cook anything on the stovetop while I’m gone. She just uses the microwave.”

Unfortunately, burns are common when using a microwave. Many people forget that food containers get extremely hot in the microwave. Kids should only use a microwave by themselves when they are tall enough to reach it safely and understand that steam can cause serious burns. Always use hot pads to carefully remove items from the microwave.

3. “My child doesn’t seem to have an interest in baby-sitting, so we’re not planning to enroll him in the Red Cross baby-sitting course.”

The Red Cross baby-sitting course is recommended for all kids age 11 and older, whether they plan on baby-sitting or not. It includes education on first aid, CPR, making good decisions under pressure and what to do in an emergency. The course is offered in some school districts, area YMCAs and in local communities. It is one way for kids to get ready to stay home alone.

4. “I can assume my child knows what is (and is not) allowed when I’m not around.”

Don’t assume anything. Clarifying rules and discussing expectations is important. Set clear limits on cooking, using TV, computers, electronic devices and having friends over. Make sure your child knows how to reach you, and what to do in an emergency. Post this information in a prominent place in your household for easy reference.

For more safety tips for tweens and teens, visit

– Katie Horrigan, director of community education and outreach, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community ServicesKohl’s Cares Grow Safe & Healthy Program

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Kohl’s Cares share the mission of keeping kids in our community safe, healthy and injury free. The Kohl’s Cares Grow Safe & Healthy program provides a trusted educational resource for safety in the home, outdoors and on the go. The more families know about safety and injury prevention, the healthier they can be.


How to know when your child is ready to stay home alone — 2 Comments

  1. This is such an interesting topic to me. When I was 9 years old, I took care of my siblings, ages 7 and 4, several days a week after school, and usually on Friday nights. I personally felt that my mom could have dispatched with the babysitter a year or so earlier. I was always comfortable home alone, with or without my siblings. My mother forced me to take babysitting jobs (with actual babies) when I was 11.

    So, from experience I can attest that some children can safely stay home alone at the age of 9. Now, my stepkids are 12 and 9, and I wouldn’t leave them for more than an hour. It has nothing to do with their age and everything to do with their mother raising them to be dependent and fearful. If you treat your children like they are capable of taking care of themselves, they will learn to take care of themselves. Personally, I find point 2 hilarious. I was also cooking without supervision at the age of 9. My mother taught me to cook from the time I could reliably stand on a chair without falling off, and therefore never needed to provide a special warning that hot things could burn. I sort of feel like parents today abdicate all responsibility for raising their kids and instead put all their efforts into protecting them. I was told that the 12-year-old was too young to ride a bus or walk to a bus stop, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to be the only college freshman whose mommy chauffeurs him to classes. Teach your kids how to take care of themselves, force them to take responsibility starting from a young age, and help them grow up and launch.

  2. As far as I can remember, I was alone starting in the summer before 8th grade. I really can’t remember how we transitioned to that. I just remember I wasn’t allowed to go out. After school I was to go straight home and stay there. I think I had to call my mother when I got home. She worked 2nd shift.