Child Home Alone - What Age?

Updated on August 17, 2015
M.H. asks from Madison, WI
28 answers

I ran into a mother recently and she was telling me that she had left her 9 year old daughter home by herself. Her daughter just turned 9 a few months ago-so she is a really young 9 year old. I was a little surprised because that seems a little young to me.
She went on to say that she is such a helicopter mom and she is trying to break away from being the helicopter mom so she is letting her kids stay at home alone.
It seems like this is one extreme to the other. Not wanting to be a helicopter mom to leaving a rather young child home alone.
Even my husband was a little shocked that she was left home alone and he is probably much more laid back than most people.
This mom said she has read that a 9 year old should be able to be left home alone for about an hour.

Our next store neighbor has a 12 year old and he (the Dad) was telling me how he is worried about this being his son's first time/school year where he will be home alone and this is just the few hours after he gets home off the bus from school and when they get home from work. It will really only be about 2 1/2 hours and the neighbor is having security cameras and some sort of security system put in because he wants to take every precaution to make sure his son is safe when he will be by himself for those few hours.

I was wondering what everyone else does? What age do you feel comfortable leaving your child at home?

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So What Happened?

From what I gathered I think the child was at home probably about 30 min. Mom called to check on her and she was probably gone another 45 minutes or so. So probably 1 hour 15 minutes.

Great input so far. Thanks. I think back to when I was young and I was babysitting a family weekly for multiple days per week - getting off the bus with them making their dinner, getting them ready for bed/put to bed and I was only 12 -but that was the good ole days. :)
I also remember having to walk home and be in the house before parents got home from work - at age 8-10 - but for some reason this didn't feel too young for me at the time. So not sure why 9 seems young to me to be home alone.

All the neighborhoods are very safe. I guess our neighbor may just be very cautious because I think there son seems extremely mature and well behaved - very respectful. I think he'll be fine on his own. I applaud his dad for taking the precautions. We just never know what could happen.

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answers from Salinas on

You can't compare a child coming home from school five days a week to an empty house to a Mom leaving her child occasionally for a short periods of time.

The 9 (even 8) year olds I know were fine for a bit when parents went to grab some groceries. Personally I would not want my 13 year old coming home to an empty house every single day for various reasons.

These two situations are apples and oranges.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

It doesn't matter what everyone else thinks. Every parent know their child/ren best.
I would definitely run to a (close by) store to grab milk & bread when my son was 9. He'll be 13 early next year. He's good for after school, if need be.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Depends on the child and for how long. My kids started babysitting at 11 and 12 so being home alone for periods of time at 9 or 10 was normal for us.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Columbia on

There is no magical "right" age. The answer is totally dependent on the ability and maturity of the individual child and how well their parents have prepared them to be able to handle the responsibility of being alone. Kids don't suddenly become independent and responsible at a certain age. We have to guide and mold them.

When my boys were 7 and 8, I began leaving them at the house alone to go for a short run around the block. They were already prepped for this by me doing things around the house when they were in other rooms when they were teeny, doing things outside without them when they were bigger, letting them play in the yard alone, letting them play down the block out of my sight. They could already be trusted to be where they were supposed to be, so this wasn't a big leap.

So at 7 and 8, I'd be gone maybe 15-20 minutes. The rules: No cooking, don't open the door for anyone, stay inside. They knew how to dial me or Nana on the phone, how to call 9-1-1, and to go to the neighbor's house if there was an emergency.

After some time we tried slightly longer timeframes. I'd run and put gas in the car or get milk. 30 minutes tops. If there was misbehavior or a problem, we'd address it, adjust rules as needed. We never just threw up our hands and said, "Oh no! They clearly can NEVER be alone!" The whole point of raising kids is to teach them to be able to be without mom and dad. This is just a part of the process.

And then, as more time passed, they matured, they showed themselves to be responsible, at about 8 and 9 I could go to the store and run errands for a few hours and leave them home. They could ride the school bus home and let themselves into the house, get a snack, start homework...go outside and play.

The rules have adjusted over time, of course. And they are now 12 and 14 (18 months between them) and very capable and responsible when left alone. They can cook, do chores, go outside, do whatever. Actually, just this week, they took the city bus and rode all around the city for the first time. We had talked about it for weeks, and I prepared them by describing how they use the bus, and we got online and learned how to read the timetables. They left at 9am and came home at 5pm after riding the bus everywhere, going to Walmart and the mall. Without me. But ONLY because I took the time to work with them and teach them to be independent and responsible was I able to do that and trust that they would be safe.

I know that's a pretty long answer. Hope it helps.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I plan on leaving my kids home alone at 9 while I run to the store. I can't wait to go for a run too!

Hopefully by 12 I can leave my oldest in charge of the other two. They'll be 10 and 8. I was babysitting at 12, and I think our helicopter ways are silly. Kids need to be broken into adulthood, and by 16, when they can drive, they should be totally able and capable of being left alone for days on end. To get there, I would think you can leave a 12 year old home alone all day. I don't think it's a good idea for social and emotional reasons, but your neighbor is really taking things too far. In fact, my state says you can't leave kids under 14 home alone for extended periods of time. i know this is to prevent serious child endangerment by awful parents, but if I deem my kids responsible, I should be able to leave them home. I plan on fighting this silly law when my kids are older. When I was 14, my parents left us alone for the weekend! My brother was 16.

When I was 11, I was out and about all day without any adults, so i figure my kids should be safe at home with a set of rules (no cooking, etc.) by 12. So at 9, they need to be broken into it with short errands, etc.

I think an hour at 9 sounds like a good starting place.

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answers from Washington DC on

Apparently, some states have laws about staying home alone ....

Kansas actually says age 6 .... But, in my mind, that would have to be a VERY mature 6 yo. I agree with others, maturity is the deciding factor ....

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answers from Jacksonville on

I started leaving my 9 yr old alone for quick trips to the grocery store (it's across the street. When she turned 10, I'd leave her alone for the 45 minutes between when I left for work and my hubby got home for work (he works nights) during the summer. Now that she's 11, I feel comfortable leaving her alone for 2-3 hours. But, we also have a dog who is very protective of her and neighbors very close by. Our struggles is letting her walk home alone from middle school. That makes me nervous!

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answers from Cleveland on

I totally agree with k-bell.

An occasional grocery store run is totally different than latch key.

My kids are a mature 12 and an impulsive 10. They will probably come home to an empty house 3 days a week for 45 mins. I hate the thought of this I really really don't like this but hubby won't budge. I will talk to neighbors and I know physically they will probably be safe. But psychological ly.i am upset about abandoning them.

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answers from Los Angeles on

At around 9 or 10 for short periods, like errands or a quick grocery shop. At 11 for a few hours at a time. By 12 they babysit. They need to be taught the rules for staying at home and know what to do in an emergency. It also helps to know the people in your neighbourhood. You need to start small and work your way up. You can't expect that a child at the age of 12 will suddenly be able to watch other children if they have never even had the opportunity to look after themselves.

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answers from Washington DC on

obviously this varies wildly depending on the child's maturity, the overall safety of the home and neighborhood, and the amount of time and circumstances under which the child is left alone.
a 9 year old alone for an hour sounds like no big deal at all to me. both of my boys did that with no trouble. and i applaud the self-termed helicopter mom for working to break the need to hover, and to give her child a sense of confidence and independence.
if the security cameras make the next door neighbor feel safe, well, good on him.
i think my boys were around 8 when i started letting them be alone for brief stints. but by their early teens they were alone a fair bit. my 14 and 10 year olds would spend some afternoons here alone working on their schoolwork while i went to work. sometimes they'd come with me, or i'd drop them off at a co-op or a homeschool friend's house if they wanted, but they were both fine being here alone sometimes too. if they had a fair bit of schoolwork to do they liked having the quiet house to themselves to get it knocked out.
they had emergency plans, of course. and yeah, it's a risk. but a small risk for us. our neighborhood is very safe, and they were (and are) sensible and responsible people. and i think part of their competence and independence arises from being trusted to take care of themselves to a reasonable degree when they were kids.
by 12 or 13 my older was babysitting other kids- not babies, but 5 years and up. by the time he was 16 he was on his 3rd business.

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answers from Washington DC on

I depends on a lot of factors. Age, maturity, location, length of time, if the kid is OK with it...Here, legally at 8 a child can be left home for a couple of hours, but not all day. They cannot be left in charge of another child, either. My SS was allowed to go home after school at 11. For his sister, it was 12. They both had to call in when they arrived. When they were 8-10, we would give them the option to come or stay when we ran to the store or other short errand. See how it worked out. Friends allow their almost 9 yr old son to hang out by himself while they go on bike rides for a couple of hours. I personally think the security system dad is going a little overboard, but if it makes him feel better, then it's not my business. I do think 12 is an appropriate age to go home alone.

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answers from Santa Barbara on

Many places allow 8 year old to be somewhere alone. Our local library has that age as the cutoff as does the local youth center.

I think the neighborhood is another factor. Does the child know and feel comfortable going 'next door' if they are scared?

Also the length of time the child will be alone makes a difference. For example, 30 minutes so mom can run to the store is different than 5 hours while mom and dad go to an out of area party.

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answers from Los Angeles on

It probably depends on the maturity level of the child.

Growing up, I remember being left home alone occasionally beginning around the second grade (7 years old?) while my mom ran errands during the day or community group meetings in the evening (until my dad returned). Not only was I home alone, I had to watch my younger sister who is 4.5 years younger than me. My mom also told me that when I was 3 years old, she went grocery shopping while I was taking a nap. I apparently woke up, and realizing my mom was gone, called my grandma, who assured me that my mom would return soon.

Typing this out, I'm thinking my mom sounds like a neglectful mom!! But I think things were a little different back then than they are now.

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answers from Boston on

I think it depends a lot on the kid, and what sort of trouble they are likely to get into. Even if we have "good kids", let's be honest that some of them are more likely than others to do forbidden stuff on the computer or decide to make popcorn and not turn off the stove. Judgment and foreseeing consequences is a developmental skill and it has nothing to do with intelligence.

It also depends on the situation is with neighbors nearby. My neighborhood is really close with a lot of vigilant parents - we pick each other's kids up at the bus, tell them to fasten those bike helpmeets (not just put it on their heads with the straps hanging down), put bandaids on skinned knees, tell teen drivers to slow down, and keep an eye out in general. If the meter reader or a real estate agent is parked for too long in one place, someone intervenes and asks what they are doing (nicely "Are you lost? Can I help you find an address?"). We pick up each other's mail or newspapers if they are piling up, and so on. I'd leave a kid home younger in this neighborhood than I might elsewhere.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

It depends on the age and maturity of the child and how long they will be home alone, what kind of neighborhood you live in, what kind of emergency plan you have, etc.
My daughter stayed home alone for a couple of hours at that age. She knew how to dial 911, how to leave a burning building, and what constituted an emergency. And this was before cell phones were a thing.
She came home from school, called me at work to let me know she was home, let the dog out, got a snack, and started her homework.
By twelve, she was staying home alone all day during her summer breaks while I was at work.

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answers from Washington DC on

I was 9 when I started to babysit. My daughter is 10 and I have left her home alone before for about an hour or so. Next year when she is 11 she wants to take the baby sitting class. There are a lot of younger kids in my neighborhood so once she takes the class she can start asking neighbors for babysitting experience :) I don't think 9 is too young to be left home for 30 minutes to an hour if they are responsible enough.

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answers from Washington DC on

In MD kids can be left alone for a couple of hours at age 8, and then for a full workday at 9. We started when our oldest was 10 letting her stay home for a few hours. We have an alarm and camera's inside and outside, so we felt better.

Now all of the kids are at least 8 and sometimes they stay home if my husband has a meeting at his home office or they simple don't want to run the errand we have to run.

No, I don't think 9 is too young if the child is responsible.

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answers from Cleveland on

I agree with others that it depends a lot on the child and neighborhood. We left one of ours alone for maybe 30 min or so when she was 9 and we weren't going far. It's partly bc she is very cautious by nature and mature and we have lots of neighbors she knows as well as a fire station a quick run away. At first I'd make sure our next door neighbors who we are very close with distance wise and friendship wise were home. I'd also call to check on her and when I did leave her, it'd be when she could watch tv or she was reading. I wouldn't want to leave when a child is bored and wandering aimlessly so may find some trouble. We also have a big, loud dog and a neighborhood where people know each other. Maybe she was even not quite 9 the first time though. I have friends who have left their 9 year old and not quite 8 year olds alone for a bit. Same neighborhood. I was a bit surprised bc youngest is a boy who typically finds trouble more easily and oldest is a girl but can be a bit wild. So people do it. I also agree that a 12 year old every single day is different. 2.5 hours every day is a lot of hours and ample time to get bored and into trouble.

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answers from Portland on

Depends on the child - because mine are different (some were more ready, others weren't at the same age). Some would not like being left on their own either.

My kids took the babysitting course at age 11 .. at that point I felt they could be left for periods of time. Mind you, I call in.

Before that, for short trips to run get mail, etc. probably 9 or 10. I can't really remember. We're talking under 10 minutes. But my kids were going to the park with friends at age 9-10 without us, but in a group, so it all just seemed to naturally happen when they were ready.

If the kids have friends over though, I don't like leaving the house - even with my young teens.

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answers from Dallas on

I think there are a lot of factors involved.. what is the law in your area, how safe is your neighborhood, how mature is the child.

I am not shocked to hear of a 9 yr old home alone for short periods of time.

My daughter was staying home alone for short periods of time while I ran to the store or something like that by the age of 9.

She was a mom's helper around 11 and was babysitting on her own for other children by 13.

The person I would be most concerned about in your post would be the paranoid dad worrying about a 12 yr old after school a couple of hours. Now, we don't know the whole story.. maybe dad has another reason for all the cameras based on his son's previous behavior. Rest assured the 12yr old will pick up on dad's paranoia and will either become paranoid himself or learn to be very clever around the cameras.

Our neighborhood has a lot of SAHM's, mom's and dad's who office from home and families with nannies. Everyone is familiar with cars, schedules, etc and we look after each other. It is no big deal for any of us to approach a strange car or report a strange car in the neighborhood. We have a large nice neighborhood and I am speaking mostly about my particular street where we all know each other.

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answers from Santa Fe on

It depends on the child and how mature they are. A 9 year old alone for an hour probably is fine. I started letting my son be home alone for 30m when he was 10. This would happen sporadically if I got home after him. He knew to let himself in and he was allowed to watch a cartoon. He also know that no friend was allowed to come over and he was not allowed to answer the door. He is 11 now and there are times where he is alone for about 30 minutes while I run to the grocery store.


answers from Chicago on

First and foremost, many states have laws regarding this now. So, when deciding for yourself, you will want to check into the law.

Here in IL, the law states that "No child under 14 shall be left home alone for an unreasonable period of time". I think many people are unaware of the law because I have friends and relatives who started leaving their kids home at age 9-10 on days the kids were sick and they had to work. We have several friends who have their oldest daughters (who are both 12) babysit their siblings all day in the summer while they're at work. One started last summer when she was still 11. I think that would fall under the "unreasonable" category.

My oldest is 13, and I just started leaving her for short periods (30-60 minutes) which I consider reasonable.



answers from Chicago on

We started last year at age 10. It really depends on your child and their level of maturity and responsibilty.



answers from Philadelphia on

I started leaving them home alone at 10. 1hr at a time, frequent check ins for the first few times. Once, the doorbell rang while my son was home alone. He didn't open the door and told the guy over the intercom that mom couldn't come to the door right now, please come back another time. Then he called me immediately to let me know. I came home pretty quickly just in case. But my son handled that well, so I felt more comfortable leaving him home more often.

The kids are now 17, 14 and 12. My youngest, at 12 (a very mature 12), stays home alone a lot and has been doing so for a couple of years. It's never been a problem. Our neighborhood is safe, people are CONSTANTLY out jogging, walking dogs or standing in driveways and chatting. I feel perfectly safe leaving her home alone. She has her phone and the doors are locked.

I guess if my child was 9 and I felt they could handle being home alone, I'd let them. But I'd be anxious and would make sure it was a really short errand. I'd never leave a 9yr old alone if they couldn't handle it or seemed anxious about it themselves. I don't know if I'd go overboard for a 12yr old, though. But parents know their own kids, so this is an individual decision, I think.



answers from Oklahoma City on

The American Red Cross teaches babysitting classes for kids age 12 and up.

If a 12 year old is supposed to be able to take care of other children shouldn't they be experienced taking care of themselves by that age?


Age 8.

When a child is able to understand the rules.

NO ONE is allowed to know you're home alone.

NO ONE is allowed to come inside


You may not answer the phone

You may not answer the door

YOU may not cook on the stove

YOU may cook popcorn in the microwave or other small things


A child can start home alone training while YOU go outside to mow. They can start home alone training while you go next door to grab an item you've run out of. They can stay home alone while you take out the trash and take a walk up and down the street.

These are things you have to do to allow them to get used to not hearing you in the house. When you're home they can be in another room but hear your movements and breathing. They know you're there.

When you're not there they will hear the pipe sounds, the creaking of the house, the wind against the walls outside, and more. It can be frightening when kids notice those things the first few times.

So that's why home alone training takes time. You don't just say "Hey, I'm going to Walmart to buy this month's groceries and I'll see you in a few hours". YOU teach them how to use a fire extinguisher, YOU teach them how to remain calm and call 9-1-1 and how to get out of the house no matter what room they're in if they smell smoke or hear someone in the house, YOU teach them what to do if their popcorn catches fire in the microwave.

There is a LOT of PRE-TRAINING that needs to happen.

If you're out mowing they can come get you. If you're next door they can come get you. So they have a support system in effect while you're "out of the house" but really right there.

This pre-training can take a year or more or less depending on how mature your child is, how they do while eating (if they tend to choke or eat with a full mouth or gag they can't eat while they're alone), and what they do while you're gone.

For instance, if you "go for a walk" and leave them alone but you see all the neighborhood kids coming over to look in your windows then chances are your little kids probably called the whole neighborhood and said "I GET TO BE HOME ALONE!!! COME CHECK IT OUT!!!". These are simple mistakes and they can be fixed and talked about.

Then comes the time when you do go off the block and leave them home alone, all alone. By this time they should be able to obey the rules and stay quiet where no one would know they were there.

BUT in the meantime you've notified your neighbors on each side that you're teaching kiddo about this so they can help you keep an eye on your child. I always let my 3 nearest and dearest friends on the block know when we're going to be gone just in case. I have these people listed on the kids pick up lists at school and they have the freedom to tell my child to mind and sit them down if needed without talking to me first. That sort of neighbor. Not some stranger that I don't know well.

Just in case you don't come home, ever again. Just in case you get taken hostage in a bank robbery like my sister and her mother in law did, or you get detained or some "thing" out of your control happens.

This way if you pass your designated return time there is a back up plan in effect. One that takes precedence like they can take your child and keep them overnight or take them to their nearest relative sort of thing.

You do have to consider all options.

Then as your child does well you can allow them more than 15-30 minutes and can maybe do an hour. As they gain independence you can increase that time. BUT this is on an individual basis.

My BFF from my first day of college told me I was smothering my daughter and she'd never learn anything if I didn't allow her to learn. So my friend took me to the grocery store for a quick trip and back while leaving my 8 or 9 year old home alone with NO TRAINING AT ALL!!!

When we'd left she wanted to "cook me dinner" so she went out in the backyard, pulled up dead grass, put it in a large pan, put the pan on the patio so she could cook outside, set fire to the dead grass in the pan, then the wind blew it out and set the entire backyards of the neighborhood on fire.


Kids need to learn how to do things like this in a safe way. I listened to my friend and even though she meant well, well, her advice was good but there was a LOT more to it than what I had done.

I learned how to do home alone training while working with people with developmental disabilities. They sometimes don't want to load up on the bus and go to Walmart to buy groceries every few days. Especially after working all day at a job or going out on a date or something. Where they just want to stay home. So the training I do for home alone time is very methodical and step by step with a lot of state influence towards "what could possibly go wrong and what to do if it does" sorts of situations but I still have it down very well.

I figure that by age 10 or 11 a kiddo should be able to manage themselves for any length of time where IF NEEDED they can be home and safe.

Isn't home supposed to be the safest place for them? It's their haven, their home. SO they should be safe!

The American Red Cross teaches babysitting classes for kids age 12 and up.

If a 12 year old is supposed to be able to take care of other children shouldn't they have experiences taking care of themselves by that age?



answers from Sacramento on

Around 9 for short stretches and 11 for longer. By junior high I was babysitting other people's kids. It's an important life skill for kids to learn to be on their own.



answers from Boca Raton on

i don't know what the law says in my state, but my 11 year olds have not been home alone yet. unless there is an emergency or something, i don't think i will leave them alone until 14 or 15. then again my kids aren't mature yet. probably they would start bickering at each other if i did leave.


answers from Norfolk on

It's going to vary a lot depending on the maturity of the kid.
I wouldn't leave a kid home alone under age 10. and a few12 yr olds I know couldn't handle it - they are ok with the idea but the house would not survive intact.
Once they get a bit older, they MIGHT be more mature, but then some teens you need to watch even closer especially when they start to sneak boyfriends/girlfriends in.

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