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Home alone: Is your child ready?

You’ve got an appointment for a haircut, and your child, who’s never been unsupervised before, is balking at the idea of having to come along. Can he or she stay home alone? That depends on maturity and a number of other factors, but experts say most kids aren’t ready to be home solo until around age 11 or 12 and, even then, only during the day and for no longer than three hours.

You must also consider the safety of your neighborhood and the availability of neighbors who can help out in an emergency. It’s important that your child feels safe, secure and comfortable with your arrangement.

Before you give it a try, discuss the following with your child:

  • Telephone and door protocol. Kids should never disclose they are home alone. Have them say, “Mom can’t come to the phone right now. Can she get back to you?” Discuss whether your child should open the door at all.
  • What to do in an emergency. Go over your plan in case of a fire, a medical crisis, a stranger at the door or another emergency. Post emergency contact numbers as well as numbers of several available neighbors.
  • How to reach you. Leave your cell phone number, work number or any other number where you can be reached. Can your child competently call you, a neighbor or emergency services?
  • Basic information. Make sure your child has on hand the full names and phone numbers of family members, doctors and your employer, as well as the name of your preferred hospital and medical insurance plan.
  • Rules and responsibilities. Discuss whether watching TV and having friends over is allowed. Are homework and other chores to be completed?