There is no magic age at which children have developed the maturity and good sense needed to stay home alone. However, there are some signs that show your child may be ready. These abilities usually begin to appear between the ages of 10 and 12.
According to Liz Brunscheen of Kansas State Cooperative Extension Service, some signs of readiness include:
• Does your child indicate a desire and willingness to stay alone?
• Does your child show signs that he/she can be responsible, is aware of the needs of others, and can think about options and make decisions independently?
• Is your child able to talk easily with you about interests and concerns; good parent-child communication?
However, consider several other factors:
• the neighborhood in which you live,
• the availability of adults nearby, and
• how long will your child be alone.
If your neighborhood is unsafe, if there are no adults nearby to call in case of an emergency, or if you child must remain alone for a very long time, it is best to continue to use some form of child care even if your child seems ready to stay alone.
Give your child some guidelines, knowledge, and training. This knowledge gives them confidence in their abilities and will help them deal with emergencies.
Children who stay alone need to know:
• how to react in situations such as being locked out, arguments with siblings, an overflowing commode, etc.
• house rules about checking in with a responsible adult, leaving the house/yard, having friends in the house, cooking and use of kitchen equipment/appliances, appropriate snacks and meals, talking on the phone, specific responsibilities and activities, caring for siblings, use of leisure time, TV, play, etc.
• telephone skills: a list of emergency numbers, what to say in an emergency situation; your address and phone number, how to respond if someone calls, understand appropriate and inappropriate reasons for calling parents or other adults for help.
• personal safety skills: how to answer the door when alone, to lock and unlock doors and windows, what to do if approached by a stranger on the way home, what to do if someone touches them inappropriately.
• home safety skills: kitchen safety (use of appliances, knives, and tools), what to do if they smell smoke or gas or in the event of a fire, during severe storms, blackouts, etc., basic first aid techniques and when to get help.
It is helpful to have some trial runs first. Follow up the experience with a discussion about how it felt-listening carefully for reactions. Periodically review house rules and safety information with your child. Children who are mentally and emotionally ready to stay alone, who have been taught the skills and knowledge needed to deal with this new responsibility, and who are able to talk easily with their parents about fears or concerns that may arise, can gain much from the opportunity to care for themselves.