How to Know When Your Child Is Ready to Stay Home Alone

These six questions might help you know.

You forgot to pick something up at the grocery store. Your partner isn’t home yet and your tween is working on his homework. He’s old enough to stay home alone while you run back out... isn’t he? Well, according to a new report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, even though they seem old enough, 9- to 12-year-olds might not be equipped with enough knowledge to stay home safely.

While 24 percent of tweens stay home alone at least once during the summertime, what's more important than feeling ready is knowing what to do (and not to do) in an emergency situation. “There is no single ‘right age’ when a child is ready to stay home alone,” Sarah J. Clark, MPH, director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, said in a statement. “Children at the tween age of 9-12 years may feel ready to stay home alone, but not all will be able to handle the different situations that may arise. Parents making this decision should consider the maturity of the child, sibling ages, neighborhood safety and how close they are to friends or relatives who could step in to help if needed.”

Here are six questions parents should ask themselves to help make the decision:

1

Do you know what to do during severe weather?

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Eighty-two percent of parents in the poll were confident that their child would know what to do during a storm. If you need a refresher, here’s how to stay safe during a natural disaster.

2

Do you know what to do during a fire?

Seventy-eight percent of parents thought their children would know to leave the house in case of a fire. But make sure you practice, together, the emergency plan before the child stays home alone. And communicate where they should go if there’s a fire in the house. Discuss what food can be cooked when home alone and what appliances should only be used with supervision. Also discuss what could catch fire in the house, along with other fire-safety habits. Kidshealth.org is a great source for fire safety information if you need to brush up on what to cover.

3

Do you know if and when to call 911?

Only 64 percent of parents were confident that their children would know when to dial 9-1-1. Discuss what types of emergencies warrant a 911 call, and which should go to a designated neighbor or family member. For a number of scenarios when it is and is not OK to call 911, head to kidshealth.org. Keep an emergency phone list handy with numbers listed for neighbors and trusted nearby contacts.



4

Do you know not to play with guns?

Alarmingly, only 53 percent of parents were very confident that their children would not play with guns when home alone. Parents who don’t keep guns in their house are likely not to discuss this with their children. However, since 1 in 3 American households do have a gun, it’s possible that your child could have access to a gun while at a friend’s house. This mean it’s absolutely imperative to discuss gun safety with your child. For talking points, head to the American Academy of Pediatrics site healthychildren.org.

5

Do you know to stay away from toxic substances?

All toxic substances like cleaning products and medicines should be up, away and locked. However, make sure that even if something gets inadvertently left behind, your child knows it’s not OK to touch. Check out poison.org for a list of common and dangerous poisons that should be kept out of reach.

6

Do you know who to call if something goes wrong?

It is important to designate neighbors to call in case of an emergency. Keep a list somewhere (on the fridge, taped inside of a cabinet, on the computer) with the numbers for 911, parents’ cell numbers, and numbers for neighbors and other close and trusted people.