Mention the words “home alone,” and children think of the excitement depicted in the movies of the same name. The reality of leaving kids home alone, however, can evoke fear and anxiety in both kids and adults.
Adult caregivers should make sure kids feel comfortable and prepared when home alone. This is whether it’s an hour after school or for much longer during the summer.
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When Can You Leave Kids Home Alone?
Your child’s age and maturity will determine their readiness to stay home alone. Most kids shouldn’t go solo before the age of 10. They also must demonstrate that they are able to take care of themselves and handle unexpected situations.
How Can I Prepare My Child?
Here are some things you can do to get your child ready to start staying home alone:
- Work together to write down a list of rules, responsibilities, and safety procedures for the home. Post them or keep them in an accessible place. The rules should spell out what is not allowed while home alone, including:
- Using appliances like the oven or stove.
- Accessing computers, laptops, tablets, and the internet.
- Letting others into the house.
- Leaving the house (visiting others, activities, etc.).
- Make sure that house keys work and that your child can lock and unlock all of the windows and doors.
- Make a family plan in case of a fire or emergency. The child should know how to escape quickly, contact a neighbor, and then wait for help at a designated meeting place.
- Install smoke detectors throughout the home and post emergency telephone numbers in accessible places.
- Arrange for the child to go to a neighbor’s house if there is a safety concern or something doesn’t feel right.
- Show your child where you keep flashlights in case of a power outage.
- Have a backup key or a neighbor the child can go to if they get locked out.
How Do I Know if My Child Is Ready?
Before leaving your child home alone, talk to them about what you expect while you’re gone and ask how they feel about it. Some kids can’t wait to feel grown up and stay home alone. For others, the idea of being all by themselves at home produces anxiety.
If your child expresses fear, discuss ways they can feel more secure at home. Playing music often helps kids who are sensitive to household noises, and pets can provide companionship.
Set guidelines for how you want them to spend their time when leaving kids home alone. Encourage them to work on homework, read a book, or do small chores. Watching TV is a nice reward for completing assigned tasks.
Discuss as a family whether friends can come over when an adult isn’t home. And if friends can come over, designate where in the house they should visit.
Younger children shouldn’t cook, but you should make sure they know which foods or snacks in the house are OK to eat. Older children are able to use the microwave with proper instruction.
Kids should always know where they can reach a caregiver or trusted adult and when they will be home so they don’t feel abandoned. You can leave notes for them, call them, or have them call you to avoid these feelings. When you return home, talk to your kids to find out what happened while you were gone.
It’s important for kids to gain confidence while learning to take care of themselves. Try leaving your child at home alone for short periods of time at first, then increasing the length of time you’re away. Praise them for following rules and being responsible.
Children who stay home alone will not feel alone if they have support and trust. Establishing rules and routines helps children feel safe and secure.
As kids learn to look after themselves, your positive feedback will help build their self-esteem. If kids must stay home alone, you can turn it into a positive growing experience.
Connect with UPMC
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.