What age can I leave my child at home alone?

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I was having an interesting conversation the other day when the question was posed, ‘at what age can I leave my kids at home by themselves?’

It prompted me to review the law – which in my state of NSW Australia there is no set age although in Queensland it is age 12. It also varies around the world, some states in USA have a law that the minimum age is 8 years while in another state it is 14.

I guess the real question is how independent and responsible are your children? I will leave my youngest two (13 & 9) at home together for half an hour to go pick up my other kids but I wouldn’t leave them for a prolonged length of time without an older sibling or adult around to supervise. I also wouldn’t leave my 9 year old son at home alone yet – much to his disgust!

A key indicator that the child is ok to stay at home alone is the fact that the child feels safe and confident to be left alone. Obviously you wouldn’t leave a child at home under duress.

The maturity and willingness of a child of 10 to be home alone may be higher than a child of 14 – you need to assess each child to determine whether they can be trusted to be sensible if left alone. I assume that the discretion to know whether your child is mature enough to be home alone is the reason our state has no strict law on age eligibility.

In order to be left home alone some of the key skills children must have are:

  1. be able to follow instructions you have left
  2. be able to use a phone to call you if needed
  3. recall their address if they have to contact emergency services
  4. know when it is necessary to call for help
  5. know to not do any dangerous things (eg playing with fire) when home alone.

The other issue related to this whole grey area of whether a child is responsible enough to be home without adults is whether there are younger children to be supervised and whether the older child is capable of looking after those kids.

So in answer to the question I posed – there is no definitive answer, just the parent’s discretion to ensure their kids are safe.

(Photo courtesy of photostock, freedigitalphotos.net)

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