University of Illinois Extension

When Are Children Ready to Stay Home Alone?

Debbie McClellan, Family Life Educator

Kids will soon be out of school for their summer break. If you work outside the home, you know that finding summer day care can be a real challenge. Or if the grandchildren are older, you may wonder if it's safe to leave them alone - even for short periods of time while you run errands.

The kids may argue that they are old enough to stay alone while you work. Unfortunately, there is no magic age at which children develop the maturity and good sense needed to stay alone.

Before you consider self-care, discuss these safety concerns with your grandchild:

  • Does the child feel confident about being alone?
  • Is there help close by?
  • Does the child know how to safely answer the phone and door while alone?
  • Is the child able to make an emergency phone call?
  • Are important phone numbers posted near the telephone?
  • Does the child understand your rules and expectations about friends coming to the house, use of free time, phone use, and other house rules?
  • Does the child know how to operate household equipment?
  • Does the child know basic first aid?

Children who can answer "yes" to these questions and demonstrate the skills needed may be ready to stay alone on a trial basis.

If they are not ready for self-care, start discussing and practicing these safety procedures now so the children are ready to stay alone when the need arises.