One of the questions we are asked fairly often here at Willows Pediatrics is, “when is it appropriate to leave my child home alone?” It’s an interesting topic, and one we will address today.
Most states, like Connecticut, do not have laws regarding a minimum age for a child to be left alone. Here’s what our state has to say about it:
Connecticut law does not specify at what age a child may be left home alone. When deciding whether or not to leave a child home alone, a parent should consider the child’s age. Many experts believe that children should be at least 12 years of age before they are allowed to stay home alone. Experts also believe that children should be over the age of 15 before caring for a younger sibling.
Additionally, parents should consider other factors when deciding if their child is ready to stay at home alone. A child’s maturity should be considered. Also, a child’s ability to handle urgent situations should be reviewed. A parent should also take into account the environment in which the child will be alone, and the child’s feelings about being alone.
As a rule of thumb, we think that until about the age of 11 or 12, most children are not ready to handle emergencies and should remain supervised. That said, your child’s maturity and decision-making abilities are the key factors in deciding if he or she is ready to be home alone. We recommend enrolling your child in a Red Cross certified babysitting course if you intend to leave him or her at home alone, especially if he or she will care for younger siblings. (We offer a Babysitter’s Safety Course at Willows for ages 11 and up. Check our website for the next date and time.)
· Does your child obey rules and make good decisions, even in emergencies? Does the child know when to call 911?
· Is the child physically and mentally ready?
· How long will the child be alone? If it is during a mealtime, can the child fix a meal?
· How often will the child be left alone?
Use your best judgment and also ease your child into this role of responsibility. Leaving him or her alone for a short, daytime errand is a good first step. And, we also suggest role-playing various potential scenarios with your child before you leave. Examples of scenarios include how to handle a stranger at the door, how to respond to a phone call asking for the parents, and what to do if there’s an injury or fire.
If you would like to discuss your individual child’s readiness, we’re happy to chat with you about this issue and any other developmental issue that might be on your mind.
Image via aap.org