A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Can I leave my child home alone?

“Guys, I’m eating junk and watching rubbish! You better come out and stop me!”

After watching 8-year-old Kevin McCallister prank the pizza delivery man and attempt to fend off burglars, it’s safe to say he wasn’t ready to be left “Home Alone.”

When it comes to your own kids, the answer might not be so clear.

If you’re wondering whether you should leave your child home alone, consider these factors and tips from Marshfield Clinic pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist Dr. James Meyer.

mom and daughter setting the table for dinner

Tracy Lapointe helps her daughter set the table at their home in Marshfield, WI

Is my child ready to stay home alone?

Kids younger than 8 shouldn’t be left unsupervised, but kids who are 16 or older probably can go it alone, Meyer said. Between 8 and 16, kids’ behavior in other situations will tell you if they’re ready to stay home alone and for how long.

  • Kids should be able to follow rules, do assigned chores, occupy themselves and stay away from items that are off limits, while parents are at home but busy.
  • Impulsive, inattentive or anxious kids probably aren’t ready to stay home alone.
  • Get an older babysitter if you find you’re breaking up a lot of arguments between your older and younger kids.

Prepare your child for the big day

  • Do a trial run. See how your child does while you’re outside or visiting with a neighbor for 30 minutes.
  • Teach your kids when and how to call 911 for an emergency and how to contact you.
  • Talk to your child about how to handle things that could happen while you’re away – a power outage, delivery person at the door, phone call from a stranger, something burning or an injured sibling.
  • Set rules for having friends visit while you’re gone. Let kids earn the privilege of having friends over after they’ve done well on their own.

Before you walk out the door…

  • Set a time to call your child while you’re gone.
  • Tell a trusted neighbor your child will be home alone. Let your child know he or she can call the neighbor with questions or problems.
  • Keep snacks or prepared meals in the refrigerator or cupboard so your child doesn’t have to use the microwave, oven or stove.
  • Make a list of activities your child can do while you’re gone, like reading, drawing, building a LEGO kit or watching TV.
  • Enable parental controls on your TV, computer and other electronics.

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