12 Things Your Child Should Know Before Staying Home Alone

Deciding to leave your child home alone is a big step, but our 'must know' checklist will make it a little easier on both of you.

Macaulay Culkin in the 1990 movie, Home Alone.

Can you depend on your child when it comes to completing homework, doing domestic tasks, or following instructions? If things don’t go as planned, do they stay in control? Does your kid have good judgment, and can they solve problems on their own?

Or, instead, do they give up quickly and turn to you for solutions when they’re not sure what to do? Does your child tend to take risks or start to panic in an emergency? Could they handle communicating with the emergency services?

If you answered ‘yes’ to most of the questions in the first paragraph, your child might be ready to stay home alone. If you did so to the second set, they might need to wait a little longer.

But how do you know when the time is right to let them have some independence? How can you feel sure they’ll be safe while you’re gone? Here’s our 12-point checklist of what they should know before they’re left to look after themselves for a while.

1When and how to call 911

This a two-parter. They should know how to call 911, or the equivalent emergency number in your country. However, it is also important to know when it’s appropriate to call. A small scratch on their leg is more likely to need a Band-Aid than an ambulance. Make sure they understand what constitutes a true emergency situation.

2Your phone number

If your child scrapes their knee, they should be able to call you rather than the cops. It also means they’ll be able to pass it on to the emergency services if there’s a true crisis.

3Your home address

Make sure they know their full address, and also how to give a dispatcher basic instructions of how to get there.

4How to care for any pets

What should they do if the dog escapes from the garden – should they go after it, or call you and wait? Do they need to feed the cat? What happens if there are any toilet accidents

5How to work the home security system

They need to know how to hit the panic button and how to call for help. They also need to know how to disarm it should it go off accidentally.

6What to do if there’s a small fire or other emergency

Of course, if there’s a fire they should call 911. While they’re waiting for help, though, do they know where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it? What if there’s a sudden severe storm and are frightened – is there a neighbor you trust that they can go to?

7Rules about visitors

Is anyone allowed in the house with your child if you’re not there? Who? Make sure kids understand clearly that they don’t have to let someone in just because they’re an adult or are wearing a uniform. Draw up a list of people that they’re allowed to let in.

8TV and technology limitations

Are they allowed to watch television or play on the computer while you’re gone? If so, are there any limits or rules? Make sure you’re both clear about them because this can become a “give an inch, take a mile” situation.

9First aid

Kids should have some basic first aid knowledge before they are left alone. Make sure they know where items like bandages, antiseptic wipes, sting or bite cream and Band Aids are kept, and teach them basic sanitation techniques.

10Rules about going outside

Some parents might be fine with their kids playing in the backyard while they are gone. Others may not. This may have to do with the neighborhood, the neighbors themselves, the local wildlife, or just a kid’s personality. Make sure your kid knows the rules as they apply to them.

11Rules about answering the door

Answering the door to anyone they don’t know isn’t allowed – it’s a no-brainer. But what if a neighbor stops by, or one of your friends? Make it clear what you’re comfortable with.

12Kitchen limitations

If your child is likely to get hungry or thirsty while you are gone, talk to them about what they can eat, when and how much. Also, discuss which kitchen tools and appliances are OK for them to use and which are off-limits.

Letting your child stay home alone is a big milestone. Every kid is different, so some will be ready earlier than others. Once you’ve decided to give it a go, be sure they know the boundaries and how to handle unexpected situations. Start off with short periods of time to help them build their – and your confidence.

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