Home Alone – What Is the Right Age?
As summer starts, many working parents start to wonder when they can leave children home alone. There is no federal law regarding the age at which children may stay home or babysit. Very few states have any laws on the subject either. National SAFEKIDS campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 should be left home alone. Fairfax County has child supervision guidelines of standards to adhere to if a child is going to be left alone.
Most authorities recommend to take into consideration the skills and maturity of the child. Some questions to think about:
- Is your child mature enough to be left alone? Age and maturity are two different things. A child who does not know how to respond to a knock at the door, or forgets to lock the door is not ready to be left at home.
- Can your child handle fear, loneliness, and boredom? Many children are used to having people around – at school, at home, at religious events. Can your child entertain himself?
- Is there a responsible adult nearby (a relative or neighbor) who your child can call for assistance? Even if your office is close by, there may be times you are unavailable to answer the phone. Who can your child turn to in those times?
- Does your child know emergency procedures? Is there an emergency kit? Role playing with your child can help him or her understand what to do in case of an accident.
- Can your child perform everyday tasks, such as making snacks, using the phone, and writing messages?
- Does your child solve small problems without assistance, or know when it’s okay to ask for help?
- If there are siblings at home, does your child manage conflicts with siblings without adult intervention?
In the situation where parents are sharing custody during summer break, the parents should discuss whether they believe the children are responsible enough to be left at home. If one parent thinks the children are okay to be left at home, and the other disagrees, consider going to a children’s counselor to seek some guidance.