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How to know when your child is ready to stay home alone

Many kids come home after school to empty houses, and for a new set of tweens, this school year will mark the first time they are allowed to do this.

As parents, we know once kids reach middle school they become more independent and responsible for making the right decisions to keep themselves safe. But how do you know when your child is ready to stay home alone?

4 common misunderstandings we hear from parents

Below are four statements we commonly hear from parents that often concern us. For each, I have provided some guidance to help start your family’s conversation about your child’s preparedness to stay home alone.

1. “I can’t wait for my child’s next birthday so he can stay home alone.”

Most experts recommend that children should be at least 11 to 12 years of age before they are developmentally ready to stay home alone. But age is only one guideline. You, as a parent, are the only one who can assess your child’s maturity, comfort level and overall readiness. It’s important to make sure you and your child are on the same page. If he expresses worry, he may not be ready. When he is willing to try it, staying home alone can help build confidence and independence. Start by leaving your child home for a short amount of time, and extend that time as everyone becomes comfortable.

2. “I do not let my child cook anything on the stovetop while I’m gone. She just uses the microwave.”

Unfortunately, burns are common when using a microwave. Many people forget that food containers get extremely hot in the microwave. Kids should only use a microwave by themselves when they are tall enough to reach it safely and understand that steam can cause serious burns. Always use hot pads to carefully remove items from the microwave.

3. “My child doesn’t seem to have an interest in baby-sitting, so we’re not planning to enroll him in the Red Cross baby-sitting course.”

The Red Cross baby-sitting course is recommended for all kids age 11 and older, whether they plan on baby-sitting or not. It includes education on first aid, CPR, making good decisions under pressure and what to do in an emergency. The course is offered in some school districts, area YMCAs and in local communities. It is one way for kids to get ready to stay home alone.

4. “I can assume my child knows what is (and is not) allowed when I’m not around.”

Don’t assume anything. Clarifying rules and discussing expectations is important. Set clear limits on cooking, using TV, computers, electronic devices and having friends over. Make sure your child knows how to reach you, and what to do in an emergency. Post this information in a prominent place in your household for easy reference.

For more safety tips for tweens and teens, visit