While some states have laws about the minimum age a child can be left home alone without it being considered neglect, you the parent are probably the best judge of when your child is ready for this milestone.
Your child should be able to perform basic self-maintenance tasks on his own, such as getting a snack and drink, answering the phone, and washing his hands. Beyond this, there’s the safety issue. Here are some tips on how to keep your child safe when he or she is home alone.
Make a Plan
First of all, make a plan and establish a routine for your child’s time alone. Include the tips listed below and anything else you think of. The plan should include an emergency plan, such as what your child should do in case of natural disaster, fire, or other emergency.
Answering the Door and Telephone
As you make your plan for your child’s time alone, practice answering the door and telephone. Teach your child to take messages if you like, or if you have caller ID, you could tell your child not to pick up the phone unless it’s you calling or someone she knows.
Answering the door has more potential for danger. You might want to instruct your child simply not to answer the door at all while you’re gone, or give him a list of people who are safe. Be sure to tell your child if there are any exceptions – if you’re expecting a neighbor to come over and drop something off when just your child is home, for example.
If it’s okay with you and the other child’s parent(s), you might want to arrange to let your child’s friend come over during your absence. Make sure these arrangements are clear and made ahead of time, and let your child know that no other friends are allowed to come over at that time except the pre-approved one.
Call and Check In
Call your child and check up on him frequently, making sure he knows to call you back if he can’t get to the phone when you call. Consider giving your child a cell phone to have “on him” at all times.
Speaking of telephones, keep a list of important phone numbers where your child can easily see them. This should include (at least) 911, key family members or friends, and the poison control center.
Useful Websites for Parents:
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Latch Key Kids.com