When is the right time to let your child stay home alone?

Many kids are on their own when they get home after school or another activity. What’s the best way to prepare them?

It’s a process that starts long before their first experience on their own, says Kaiser Permanente adolescent nurse practitioner Jessica Henneman, ARNP. “Kids need ongoing reminders about the basics, from safety around the stove to when to answer the door,” she says. “This starts years earlier and culminates in readiness to be home alone.”

There’s no law in Washington that specifies when a child can be left alone — although many experts recommend waiting until around age 11. Henneman says that a child’s awareness of some key safety rules is one of the best ways to decide when they’re ready.

Before you leave your child alone, make sure they know these things:

  • Their home address
  • A parent’s phone number and how to dial a phone to reach them
  • Where to find other important phone numbers, including a neighbor’s
  • How and when to dial 911
  • What to do if someone comes to the door
  • Safety around the kitchen

“Most of us as children were taught to pick up the phone and dial 911,” says Henneman. “Now we need to ensure a phone is with the child, since many homes don’t have landlines.” If children are using a cellphone, they need to know how to unlock it and dial correctly, she adds. Parents should also make sure they have a phone with them to receive calls from their children.

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