When to Leave Kids Home Alone

Is this child old enough to begin staying home alone?   When older children are placed in situations of independence that they can handle, it can help them learn responsibility.  However, asking too much too soon is dangerous and holds consequences for the child and the parent.  Children left unsupervised or in the care of young siblings are at increased risk for accidental injury and behavioral and academic problems. 

Inadequate supervision is a parent/caregiver leaving a child without adult supervision or arrangement appropriate for the child’s age or mental or physical condition, so that the child is unable to care for the child’s own needs or another’s basic needs or is unable to exercise good judgment in responding to any kind of physical or emotional crisis.  There is no age stated in Florida Statute at which a child can be left unattended or alone.  There are also no established timeframes for how long a child can be left alone.  These are primarily parental decisions and, as such, each situation must be assessed individually, focusing on:

  • Specific child, caregiver, and incident given child’s age, maturity, developmental level, or mental or physical condition;

  • Child’s ability to care for own needs or another’s basic needs; and

  • Child’s ability to exercise sufficient judgement in responding to any physical or emotional crisis.

Florida does not have a law about the age children can be left home alone, but instead expects parents to take all of the circumstances into account when deciding what level of supervision is needed.  Parents and caregivers should begin leaving children home alone progressively—for a short time initially and stay relatively close to home in case needed.

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends that children not be left alone before the age of 12.  Many other children will not be ready until later than that.  Also, experts caution that older siblings are generally not ready for the responsibility of supervising younger children until the age of 15 or older.

Following are some questions to consider before making this important decision:

  • Is my child comfortable, confident and willing to stay home alone?  

  • Does my child consistently follow my rules and guidelines?

  • Has my child demonstrated good independent judgment and problem-solving skills in the past?

  • Is my child able to stay calm and not panic when confronted with unexpected events?

  • Does my child understand the importance of safety and know basic safety procedures?

  • Can my child lock and unlock the doors and windows of our home?

  • Is there an established routine for when he or she is home alone, with defined responsibilities and privileges?

  • Is our neighborhood safe?

  • Do we have neighbors that my child and I know and trust?  

To help ensure a child’s safety when staying at home alone, follow these safety tips:

Does this child know how to call 911?  Also, place all emergency numbers (doctor, hospital, police department, fire department, poison control center, emergency medical services) and the phone number of a friend or neighbor in a visible place and/or programmed into a cell phone.  Make sure your child knows your fire escape plans.  Remind your child to get out of the house immediately if the smoke alarm sounds and to call the fire department from a neighbor’s house. Show your child where the first-aid kit is and how to use the items in it.  Prepare a snack or meal for your child in advance, preferably one that does not need to be heated.  Tell the child where you will be, how you can be reached, and when you will return home.  Also set ground rules for:

  • leaving the house                                                                       

  • having friends over

  • cooking

  • answering the phone/door

  • using the Internet

  • checking in with you