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When can I start leaving my children home alone?

July 11, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

When can I start leaving my children home alone? | An emergency checklist

Question: My kids are six and eight years old. My eight-year-old tells me that her friends can stay home alone but I’m not sure when the right age is to leave my kids without a parent or babysitter. When can I start leaving my children home alone?

Answer: This is a difficult question to answer because there are many factors that come into play when deciding how old a child should be when he or she is left alone. Those factors include:

The Law
Each state has its own legal age at which a child can be left unsupervised by an adult. However, the legal language is sometimes confusing. For example, in Illinois, a minor under the age of 14 “should not be left unsupervised for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor.” The law may not define what is “unreasonable,” so it’s difficult to assess the age and/or time period a child can legally be left alone.

Check with your state’s Department of Children and Family Services to see what age they say children can be left alone and honor the law.

Maturity
Even if your children are at an age in your state when they can be legally left alone, if they are not mature enough to spend time alone, take care of themselves, or react appropriately in dangerous situations, you should not leave them alone.

Think about how your daughter handles responsibility. Does she complete her chores and homework without much prompting from you? Does she listen when you talk to her and follow instructions well? If she does and is at the legal age in your state to be left alone, she might be ready to stay home alone.

Safety
As mentioned above, the oldest child (or even a babysitter) needs to be able to react quickly and appropriately if danger arises. The child should know how to use a fire extinguisher, fire escape plans, how to treat minor injuries, how to call 911 in case of a serious emergency, and more.

If you are considering allowing your daughter to stay home alone, practice emergency drills so she is prepared if something happens.

If your daughter will be babysitting her younger sibling, it’s important that she knows how to care for that sibling. Teach her about any allergies or other concerns that might affect the sibling in your absence. And always remind them both not to take a bath without adult supervision, as children can drown in just an inch of water.

These are just some of the factors to consider before letting your child stay home alone. Be sure to look into your state laws and consider your child’s maturity and safety skills before leaving her alone.

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