Oh no, we forgot Kevin!
When is your child old enough to leave ‘Home Alone?’
Juice Staff Published: 12/20/2019
A nationwide survey by the National Association of Social Workers asked 485 social workers at what age they thought it was appropriate for children to be left home alone. No, not like Kevin McAllister, who waged a small war against bumbling home intruders around Christmastime in the movie “Home Alone.”
How old does your child need to be before you can run to the store while they finish up homework or enjoy some playtime?
Social workers in the study tended to agree that no child under the age of 12 should be left home alone. The experts surveyed also felt 13 is the general age when most children are mature enough to be responsible, not hurt themselves and react appropriately if they need something. Randolph "Randy" Thornton, MD, a pediatrician at Jacksonville Pediatrics and Wolfson Children’s Hospital, tends to agree.
“Every child is different, but generally, I would say around 11 or 12 years old would be a safe age,” Dr. Thornton said. “There are people who leave them home alone earlier, but the biggest determinant is if the child is able to handle an emergency. A good way to think about it is, at what age do you think your child would make a good babysitter?”
One way to test your child's readiness to be left home alone for a couple of hours is to run through some different scenarios together.
“It’s about maturity and how to handle an emergency. If the house is on fire, what do you do? If someone knocks on the door, what do you do? What would you do if you smelled smoke? Hopefully, their answer is, ‘Get out of the house and call 911,’” Dr. Thornton said. “You know your child the best and some may not be ready at 11 or 12, but that’s a good rough estimate because they’re usually able to handle an emergency.”
Before leaving the house, be sure to run through a safety check. Ensuring everything dangerous is inaccessible is important, especially if there will be a younger child home alone with an older one.
“My biggest concern would be firearms — make sure they’re locked up,” Dr. Thornton said. “With children in the house at any age, make sure the ammunition is in a separate location and ensure there’s a trigger lock at least or a case where the gun is locked up.
Also, make sure cleaning products and poisons are locked away, and that access to swimming pools is blocked, especially if younger children will be with the older children,” he added. “Imagine if you were babysitting a younger child and essentially childproof your house.”
And lastly, give your child a dry run before stepping out for a couple of hours at a time. Maybe you watch TV in your bedroom for a few hours and have your child act as though you’re not home. Dr. Thornton recommends trying a short trip out and checking in about how he or she did when you get home.
He recommended, “Try small trips away, like running to the grocery store, and just see how they do. Were they too anxious or nervous? Go for a walk or a short night out and see how things go, then extend the time slowly.”
Is your child ready to start staying home alone, or even babysitting? Baptist Health’s Safe Sitter class teaches students in sixth through eighth grade how to stay safe when home alone or looking out for younger children, including lessons on first aid and CPR.