Patients and Families

Helping Kids Stay Home Alone

Mention the words “home alone,” and children think of the excitement depicted in the movies of the same name. The reality of being home alone, though, can evoke fear and anxiety in kids. Whether left alone for an hour after school or several hours a day during the summer, parents should make sure that their kids feel comfortable being alone. 

Children's age and maturity will help determine their readiness to be left alone. Kids shouldn't be left alone before age 10. They should be able to take care of themselves and handle unexpected situations. 

Parents should discuss what they expect of their kids and how the kids feel about it. If children express fear, parents can discuss ways they can feel more secure. Playing music often helps kids who are sensitive to household noises, and pets can provide companionship. Here are some things to do to prepare kids for staying home alone:

  • Work together on a list of rules, responsibilities and safety procedures.
  • Make sure that house keys work and that the child can lock and unlock all windows and doors.
  • In case of fire or emergency, the child should be able to escape quickly, contact a neighbor and wait for help at a designated meeting place.
  • Install smoke detectors throughout the home and post emergency telephone numbers by phones.
  • Arrange with a neighbor that the child will go to his or her house if the door is found open or something doesn't feel right.
  • Keep flashlights handy in case of a power outage.
  • Have a backup key or neighbor to whom the child can turn if his or her key is lost.

Parents can set guidelines for how the children should spend their time by encouraging them to work on homework, read or do small chores. Watching TV is a nice reward for completing assigned tasks. Families should discuss whether friends are allowed inside.

Children should know to keep doors locked and to not answer the door or phone; the answering machine is useful for screening calls. Families also should review rules about using appliances, computers and the Internet. Younger children shouldn't cook, but parents should make sure they know what they may and may not eat. For example, hot dogs can cause choking and should be discouraged.

Kids should always know where their parents can be reached and when they will be home so they don't feel abandoned. Parents can leave notes for them, call them and have them call to avoid these feelings. When parents return home, they should talk to their children and find out what happened while they were gone. It's important for kids to gain confidence while learning to take care of themselves. Parents can leave them for short periods of time at first, then increase the time they're away. Parents also should praise kids for following rules and being responsible.

Children who stay home alone will not feel alone if they have their parents' support and trust. Establishing rules and routines helps children feel safe and secure. As kids learn to look after themselves, parents' positive feedback will help build their self-esteem. If kids must stay home alone, parents can help them make it a positive experience.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC offers Positive Parenting classes and other parenting workshops. For more information, call the Community Education Department at 412-692-7105. Current classes are listed on this Web site.

Last Update
September 11, 2008
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Last Update
September 11, 2008
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