Leaving your children at home alone
At a glance
- Know your child's level of maturity when thinking about leaving them at home alone.
- When leaving your child at home for the first time, do it during the day for short periods.
- Work out a set of ‘home alone' rules with your child.
- Make sure your child has a list of contacts including those of safe neighbours.
- Being left at home alone is a developmental step in your child gaining independence and maturity.
All parents make the decision to leave their child at home alone sooner or later. And although parents may worry at first, most kids will be fine on their own when the appropriate time comes, so long as some guidelines are followed.
What's the law?
There is no actual law in Australia that states what age a child can be left alone. The law is clear, however, that parents are legally responsible for their child's safety and wellbeing. Parents have the responsibility to provide food, clothing, a place to live, and safety and supervision for their children. The police or the NSW Department of Community Services can remove children from situations where their safety is considered to be in danger and there is no guardian present. Babies and toddlers should never be left alone.
Is my child ready to be left alone?
There comes a time when your child will want and need to develop more independence. Being home alone for the first time can be an exciting or frightening experience for them. Talk to your child about how they feel being left on their own; know their level of maturity and trust their instincts. When you feel they are ready, leave your child alone during the day just for short periods of time. Let them know when you will be back and stick to that time.
Make a list of home alone rules together
Making some clear 'home alone' rules with your child gives them an understanding of their boundaries and can also keep you from worrying. Ideas include:
- Asking your child not to answer the door under any circumstances
- Telling your child not to reveal they are alone to people on the phone
- Pointing out 'safe' people's homes in the street they can go to for emergencies and have the neighbours' phone numbers on hand
- Parents carrying a mobile phone and calling if they are going to be away from home longer than planned.
Other home alone ideas to think about
- Can the kids play outside?
- Are they allowed to have friends over or go to a friend's house if invited?
- Are they allowed to answer the phone if it rings?
- Can they swim in the pool?
- Are they allowed to use the microwave, toaster or oven?
- Can they leave the house to go to a shop?
- Can they use the telephone, watch TV or use the internet?
Who's in charge?
The oldest child in a family is often expected to be responsible for the care of younger siblings, but this may not always be fair or appropriate. In making decisions about who is in charge, consider the following:
- Is giving the oldest child this level of responsibility fair to all the kids?
- Will younger children feel safe and comfortable in their care?
- Can they look after themselves and other siblings in any situation that may arise?
- Will they know what to do and how to get help?
- Will they be able to handle the situation if the other children ‘play up' or are sick?
Kids make mistakes
Kids do make mistakes and this is all part of learning. Reassure your child that being on their own is a big step in taking responsibility for themselves. They may end up changing the tuning on the TV or playing the music louder than you'd like, but they will probably come through the experience unscathed and just a little more mature.
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