Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?

There is no specific age when children are ready to stay home alone because children mature at different rates.  It is most important to know if your child feels comfortable being home alone and has the prudence to handle an emergency. 

Legally, Florida does not specify an age a child has to be to be left home alone (according to the Department of Human Health & Services).  

The following are common principles to follow when determining the age range at which children may be left alone at home, along with considering age and maturity levels:

  • 7 and under – Should never be left alone for an extended time.  This includes leaving children alone in automobiles, playgrounds, and backyards. 
  • 8 to 10 years – Should not be left alone for more than 1 or 2 hours and only be left alone during daytime and early evening hours.
  • 11 to 12 Years – Can be left alone for up to 3 hours, but not late at night or in conditions that require the child to be responsible in a way they are not yet suited for.
  • 13 to 15 years old – Can be left unattended but not overnight.
  • 16 to 17 years old – Can be left unattended (in some cases, for up to two consecutive overnight periods).

Having a conversation with your child is the best way to begin understanding if they are ready to be left home alone.  Listen to the child’s feelings and concerns.  Starting self-care may not be a good idea during a period of increased stressed such as a move to a new home, a divorce, or death in the family.  Build up hours gradually by leaving your child briefly to run an errand or arranging to arrive home fifteen minutes later than usual from work.  With practice you will both be ready for him/her to spend longer periods of time alone and you can plan a regular schedule of self-care.

A combination of arrangements may be the best plan for some families.  You might enroll your child a couple of days a week in a local recreation or an extended day program.  Sometimes exchanging care with another family works well.  As your child spends time alone at home, you may want to schedule an activity at least one day a week in order to break the routine of being alone.
There are many important steps you can take to ease your worries and help protect your child while you are not around.  Go over the rules of your home including what to do if a stranger comes to the door or if friends want to come over.  Decide together what things are “off limits” until a family member comes home and how time alone will be spent.  Some families ask their child to check in by telephone.  This is both a safety precaution and a way to hear a bit about your child’s day.  For many families some kind of central check-in center such as bulletin board is helpful for messages or reminders. Keep a weekly schedule and checklist for your child to use.  This routine will help your child feel secure and responsible.
Continually evaluate your arrangements and be flexible.  Consider new ideas and change your plan if it does not work.  Talk often with your child.  Together you can build on your child’s ability and confidence in handling self-care.