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Making the Big Decision: Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone? Important Tips for Parents and Caregivers

“All parents eventually face the decision to leave their child home alone for the first time. Whether they are just running to the store for a few minutes or working during after-school hours, parents need to be sure their child has the skills and maturity to handle the situation safely…” As we know parenting doesn’t come with a manual and making decisions like leaving kids at home alone differs between families and for various reasons. It’s important to remember that each child and circumstance is different, and parents/caregivers should decide what’s best for their child. Kentucky doesn’t have a minimum age law stating how old a child must be before they can stay home alone, but there are states that do. As a parent of a teen, I know how big of a decision this can be so I’d like to share some important tips that helped me.

  • Safety & Rules – Be sure to have discussions about kitchen safety, not answering the door when someone knocks, locking the door and staying aware of what’s going on around them. Explain why they shouldn’t leave the home to play outside, not having friends over, not watching inappropriate shows or movies, or not using the internet in an unsafe way. (e.g. Sharing online that they’re home alone)
  • Communication – Discuss when it’s necessary to call for help or call you. Share alternative emergency contacts, 911 and non-emergency lines. Both you and your child should check-in often by phone. Have them memorize your home address and telephone number.
  • Have a trial period – Leave them home alone for a short time while staying close. After they are left home alone, talk to them about their experience and if they’re comfortable with being at home alone for increasingly longer periods of time.

In addition to those tips, it’s also a good idea to inform trusted adults that your child may be home alone on some days. They can be a good resource in the event of an emergency.

Do a check before leaving your child alone:

  • Lock up alcohol, car keys, household chemicals, firearms, and medications.
  • Make sure your smoke detectors are working and that your child knows what to do if they go off.
  • If applicable, teach them how to work your home alarm system or security cameras, make sure your child stays away or can swim if you have a pool.

It is generally recommended that parents should wait until late teen-age years before allowing kids to stay home alone overnight. Older youth who are babysitting should follow the same tips listed above and go through the Crime Prevention and Child Safety Training with an adult. I want to reiterate that every family and circumstance of why they’re considering leaving a child alone is different and should not be criticized. I’m not an expert but I do know that all parents want the best for their kids!

For more tips and resources on this topic check out the following articles.
Face It Movement Safe Medication Storage
UK Healthcare When is it safe for kids to stay home alone? Here’s what you should know.
Child Welfare Information Gateway Leaving Your Child Home Alone
Find Law When Can You Leave a Child Home Alone? and  Crime Prevention and Child Safety Training

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