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How Old Does a Child Have to be if They are Left Home Alone?

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Leaving a child at home alone for the first time can make any parent nervous, even if the child is old enough to take care of themselves. Some states set laws that tell parents their child must be of a certain age in order for them to be home alone. Other states, like California, leave it up to the discretion of the parent to decide if their child is mature and ready enough.

California urges parents to consider their child’s maturity level, not just their age, when deciding if it is okay to leave them at home without an older adult around. For example, a 10 year old may show considerable maturity for their age while a 12 year old is still a bit of a trouble-maker. Perhaps in this case, the 12 year old is not mature enough to be left home alone, but the 10 year old is.

To prepare for the “big day” of leaving a child alone at home, parents ought to first discuss this with the child: are they, themselves, ready to be left alone at home, or not? If they are ready, then additional precautions need to be laid out, such as what to do in case of an emergency, leaving contact phone numbers, setting rules like do not answer the door, do not use the stove or oven. Parents will also want to notify trusted family, friends, and neighbors in case they are needed during an emergency, or the child feels uncomfortable. Before leaving a child alone for an extended period of time, the parent should do a “trial run” by leaving them home alone while they make a quick trip to the store.

When the time is right, a child and parent will agree when they are both ready to be apart with the child home alone.