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by Brittney Schrick - June 16, 2016
One of the hallmarks of growing up is becoming more independent. Parents may find
it difficult to let go, but it is very important to allow children to gain skills
that will help them be successful adults. One of they ways children can show their
independence is by staying home alone. During the summer or other times kids are out
of school, childcare may be an issue. You may have plans for camps or for grandparents
to watch your child; however, sometimes other arrangements may be needed. If you have
an older child, you may be wondering if they are ready to stay home alone. Because
every child is different, there are no hard and fast rules regarding what age is appropriate
to leave a child home alone (though some states have laws regarding this issue); however,
there are several things to take into account when making the decision to trust your
child with this responsibility.
Arkansas does not have a legal limit on what age a child may be left home alone. Some
school districts have rules about what age they will allow a child to get off the
bus at home without an adult present (for many, that age is 9 years old or older),
and that may be a good guideline for your family. Although there is no state regulation
on a safe age to leave a child alone, an infant or toddler should never be left at home alone, even for a brief time. Many child welfare experts suggest
age 12 as a minimum, safe age for being left for more than an hour or so, while children
9 - 12 may be alone for an hour or less. It is up to the local police whether or not
to file charges should a call be made while a child is home alone. Additionally, there
are no regulations about leaving children in charge of siblings or others; however,
it is not advised that an infant or toddler be left in the care of a sibling under
the age of 13.
When assessing whether your child is ready to stay home alone, their age is certainly
a consideration; however, every child is different. Some 8-year-olds are far more
mature and capable than some 15-year-olds. Several things to ask yourself when making
this important decision are:
If you or your child are not comfortable with these issues, they are probably not
ready to stay home alone. If you want to begin preparing them to stay home alone in
the future, these are good guidelines to keep in mind.
Is your child excited about or even ok with staying home alone? If she or he is afraid,
it may have an impact on decision-making now or comfort with being home alone in the
future. Be sure to discuss the idea with your child and be open to their concerns and ideas. Having a trial
run where you leave the child for a very brief time is a good idea. Maybe leave and
walk around the block or go to the corner store. If they are calm and collected, they
will likely be fine for a longer period. Keep in mind, "a longer period" may be 30
minutes to an hour, or it may be several hours depending on your child's maturity,
age, and comfort level. In general, children under age 12 will find staying home all day very difficult to manage, and it is not suggested
that younger children be left alone for longer than an hour or so. Children are far
more likely to get into trouble the longer they are alone due to boredom or curiosity.
It is very important to set boundaries and expectations with your child regardless
Ask your child what she or he would do in emergencies. Fire? Knock on the door? Storm?
Injury? How would they handle these situations? Be willing to role play different scenarios with your child to give them practice and confidence. This will
be helpful beyond staying home alone.
If you decide that your child is ready to stay home alone, don't overdo it. Be sure to limit the time they are on their own, especially if they are young. Teens
can typically do just fine even if left home all day; however, children under 12 or
13 will need balance with other activities and other kids.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Leaving your child home alone. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/homealone.pdf
Dealing with Emergencies when home alone (Home Alone Part 2)
Structure and Fun for kids home alone (Home Alone Part 3)