Leaving a child home alone isn't an easy decision. You have to make a difficult choice, even if you have a fully capable child and your trip to the store will only last a few minutes.
Depending on where you live, there may be laws in place to help you make good decisions and know where the state draws the line at neglect.
In this article, you'll learn about laws regarding the age that you can leave a child home alone. This will include helpful guidelines that cover:
- The minimum age, by state, when children can be left home alone
- When you can tell whether a child is capable of being left home alone
- Safety tips for when you leave a child home alone for short periods of time
Leaving a Child Home Alone and the Law
A few states specify a legal age to leave a child home alone. The age limits for letting a child stay home alone and the corresponding states that follow them are as follows:
- 14 years: Illinois
- 12 years: Delaware and Colorado
- 11 years: Michigan
- 10 years: Washington, Tennessee, Oregon, and New Mexico
- 9 years: North Dakota
- 8 years: North Carolina, Maryland, and Georgia
- 6 years: Kansas
- No age limit: the remaining 37 states
Many states will not set a specific age limit. They will instead review circumstances case by case. Most states have guidelines you can use to determine whether your child is ready to be left home alone.
Factors to consider may include:
- The child's age and maturity
- The overall safety of the surrounding area/circumstances
- The arrangements made to secure the child's safety
How to Know If a Child Is Ready to Stay at Home Alone
No two children are alike, and parents must decide on a case-by-case basis what's best for their child.
Before leaving a child home alone for an extended period, a parent or caretaker should consider the following:
- The age and maturity level of the child
- The length of time the child will need to stay home alone
- Whether the child works well independently and follows directions
- The age and number of older or younger siblings being left at home
- The safety of the surrounding neighborhood
- The willingness of neighbors or babysitters to check in with the child during the day
- Whether the child would feel safe staying home alone
- Whether the child needs special attention for disabilities or mental health issues
- Their overall comfort level with letting a child stay home alone
When Can You Leave a Child Home Alone: Safety Tips
If you need to leave kids home alone, at least where older children are involved, you can follow these recommendations:
- Have the child memorize their full name, address, and cell phone number.
- Post a list of emergency contacts or caregivers to call in the event of an emergency situation.
- Have a first aid kit readily available.
- Call the child several times during the day while you are away for the first time.
- Teach the child how to work the locks on windows and doors and lock them at home.
- Tell the child not to enter other people's homes (even neighbors) without your permission.
- Designate a "safe house" to run to if the child ever feels that they're in danger.
- Never allow a child to work the oven or stove without a parent or adult caretaker.
- Consider programs offered by schools, organizations, and churches as an alternative to leaving a child home alone for an extended period of time.
In addition to the suggestions listed above, it's always a good idea to inform immediate neighbors that your child may be home alone on some days. Not only can a neighbor be a good resource in the event of an emergency, but they can also help alleviate potential child welfare or child abuse calls to your local Child Protective Services (CPS) by unaware neighbors.
Getting Your Child Ready for Staying Home Alone
Preparing your child for staying home alone can help build their confidence and keep them safe. Here are some ways parents can help prepare their children:
- Start with short timeframes: Start by leaving your child alone for brief periods, like when you're running a quick errand. Slowly increase the time they spend alone as they get more comfortable with your absence.
- Set clear rules: Talk with your child about the expected behavior, responsibilities, and possible emergencies when they're home alone. Make sure they understand the rules and boundaries.
- Teach necessary skills: Make sure your child can complete basic tasks, such as making simple meals, using the phone for help, and safely using household appliances.
- Practice emergency situations: Act out different emergencies like a fire or an unwanted visitor with your child. Teach them the right actions to take and who to call for help.
- Create routines: Develop a schedule for your child to follow while alone, including chores, homework, and fun activities. This helps them stay organized and engaged.
- Build a support system: Introduce your child to trusted neighbors, friends, or relatives nearby who can help if needed. Make sure your child knows how to contact these people in case of an emergency.
- Encourage open communication: Keep talking with your child about their experiences and feelings about being home alone. Address their concerns or fears and provide reassurance.
Following these steps can help children develop the skills and confidence they need to safely stay home alone.
Questions About Leaving a Child Home Alone? Get Legal Help Today
Is your child too young to be at home alone? That question is never easy to answer, but the law in your state might provide guidance.
Because your child's safety is of paramount importance, speak with a lawyer who can provide you with a clear answer.
Childcare laws vary from state to state and may change over time. A family law attorney in your area will be able to explain the childcare laws of your state. They will also help you understand how to comply with the law.