“At what age can I leave my child home alone?”
This is a question parents ask all the time at our Home Alone Safety courses. The truth is, in Ontario there is no magic age on which it is legal to leave your child home alone (ages may vary from province to province). The Children’s Aid Society recommends that children under 10 years of age shouldn’t be left home alone. Does this mean all 10-year olds are ready to be home by themselves? Absolutely not. There is no law put into place as children’s maturity levels and capabilities can be totally different and vary from child to child. In the end, it is your call at what age you choose to leave your child home alone, but we’ve compiled a list of 10 important topics to ask yourself before you make the big decision.
#1. Basic First Aid – Does your child have knowledge of basic first aid? Of course, accident prevention is key, but we all know sometimes an injury or emergency is inevitable. You might think “yes, my child knows how to apply a band aid if need be” but think about other situations that could arise. Do they know what to do if they are home alone and choke? Will they know what to do if they cut themselves while making a snack and there is a lot of blood? What if they burn themselves? Do they know what’s considered an emergency and what isn’t? Before your child is ready to be left alone they absolutely need to be armoured with a first aid skill set.
#2. Fire Safety – The thought about your home being on fire when your child is home alone is certainly a scary one, this is why it’s so important to have a fire safety plan in place. Do they know the two exits from every room in their house and where the meeting spot is? Fire Safety goes even beyond that, do they know how to prevent a fire in the first place?
#3. Kitchen Safety – Your child needs to be able to prepare a snack for themselves. Are they capable of this? Do they know what would be a safe and healthy snack choice when they’re home alone? This is an imperative skill that needs to be addressed before they can be alone for any length of time.
#4. House Rules – All the rules of the home you expect them to follow in your absence need to be clear. Are there areas in the house that are off limits? Can they be online when home alone? Can they have friends over? The list goes on and on. Every family has different rules which is why it is so important to make sure there is a mutual understanding of the rules in your household. Just because they can do something when your home, doesn’t mean it should also be done when you aren’t around. In the Home Alone Safety manuals, we have a great tool called “the signed agreement” where parents and children can sit down and set out all the rules together.. All parties sign the agreement so there are no grey areas..
#5. Appropriate Activities – As mentioned above, your kids need to know what they can (and can’t do) when they are home alone. Just because they can jump on the trampoline when you’re home, doesn’t mean that’s an ideal activity choice for when they’re home alone. As we know, children can get bored easily, in which case they then tend to get into trouble. They need to have a large list of safe activity options they can do when they are by themselves.
#6. Tricky People – The main principle of tricky people is a tricky person can be someone you know or don’t know but it is someone who breaks a safety rule or asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. You might think Tricky People isn’t much of a worry if your child is safe in the family home but this is not the case. What do they do if someone comes to the door? What if that person is persistent? What if they are dressed in a uniform, then is it safe to let them in? Tricky People can also become an issue over the phone and online. It is imperative that your child knows exactly what to do in these situations so there is no panic. What if someone they know shows up when you are not around, are they allowed to let them in?
#7. Online Safety – Children need to be taught online safety, especially before it is appropriate for them to be left to their own devices. What are the family rules regarding any online activity when they are home alone? What should they do if playing an online game and another player asks for personal information? What can they post on their social media platforms? The online world can be very dangerous, a young person can get themselves in a lot of trouble very quickly!
#8. Maturity Level – You know your child better than anyone else, and this might be a tough one but is your child mature enough to be left home alone? Are they responsible enough to manage themselves and the house? There is no easy answer, there is no magic age. Every child is different and making the decision to leave them on their own should not be taken lightly.
#9. Sibling Rivalry – Leaving your child home by themselves might be one thing, but if a sibling is there as well that can be a whole different story. You might think two or more there together is better, but this is certainly not always the case. Some siblings get along quite well and can support each other and keep each other busy, other sibling relationships can be volatile and may be a recipe for disaster without a parent referee in the picture.
#10. Baby Steps – When you think you’re ready to allow your child to be home alone we never suggest just jumping right in. It’s best for your child (and yourself) to take the process slow and work up to it. Start by spending time away from them in the home (ie be out gardening) and let them be in the house on their own for awhile. Give them more responsibilities and see if they can handle it (you pack your own lunch today; you can prepare a snack for the family today). The first time you leave them home alone make sure it’s for a short period of time (run to the store, take the dog for a walk etc.). If these go well, you can then gradually leave them for longer periods of time.
There is a lot to think about before you can confidently leave your child home alone. This is just a small list of the situations your child needs to be well equipped to deal with. We suggest enrolling your child in a Home Alone Safety for Kids Course before you leave them home alone. We cover the above topics and much more so that our students are ready and knowledgeable before taking this big step in their independence.
* Due to the current pandemic all courses have gone to virtual classrooms and you can register here https://safetytreecanada.com/online-learning/home-alone-safety-for-kids-virtual-classroom . All virtual classrooms are in Eastern Standard Time.