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Published on August 27, 2014

Home Alone

August 27, 2014

08.27.14 - Home AloneIs your preteen old enough to be left unsupervised?

As children get older, one of the perks for parents is being able to run errands or have dinner out with friends without having to hire a babysitter. But many parents question the age when it’s safe and appropriate to let a child stay home alone. Is your preteen ready for the responsibility?

Age + Maturity

Even if your child is 12, she may not be ready for an unsupervised stay at home. For instance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not recommend a specific minimum age, but rather encourages parents to use common sense when deciding to begin leaving a child unsupervised. HHS recommends parents ask themselves the following questions when making the decision:

  • Is my child physically and mentally able to take care of herself?
  • Is my child generally obedient and a good decision-maker?
  • How well does my child react to situations that are new or stressful?
  • Is my child comfortable with the idea of being home alone?
  • Is my child able to understand and follow our family’s safety plan for various emergencies?

The First Time

Once you feel your child is ready, start by reviewing all of the important information and rules—including safety plans, cooking instructions, and television and Internet parameters. Then schedule a trial run. Leave your child home for a short period of time while you stay close by. When you return, talk about how it went and ask your child if he felt comfortable being alone. Gradually increase the amount of unsupervised time within both your and your child’s comfort limits.

Safe Home, Safe Kids

Don’t leave your child home alone until you’ve completed the following home safety steps:

  • Securely lock away all weapons, alcohol, medications and household poisons.
  • Post a list of important contact information by the phone. This should include phone numbers for you, trusted neighbors, police and fire departments, and poison control. Your child should also know your family’s home address and phone number.
  • Have meals and snack options available that don’t require the use of a gas stove or oven to cook.
  • Set appropriate parental controls on the TV and Internet.

Your child should know the following:

  • When or when not to answer the door and phone
  • How to shut off water valves on sinks and toilets in case of leaks or overflows
  • How to use the fire extinguisher
  • What activities are off-limits while you’re gone
  • Where you will be and when you’re going to return

For questions or more information, contact the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services by calling 800.232.3798.

For more articles regarding child safety, check out our Health & Wellness section!


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