When are Children Old Enough to Watch Themselves?

When are Children Old Enough to Watch Themselves?

Get the scoop on when your children may be ready to be left home alone, courtesy of our friends at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. All kids are different, so keep these tips in mind as you determine what's best for you and your family. 

We know that the safety of your child is your most important priority as a parent. Parents spend a lot of energy assuring that their children are cared for when they cannot be with them, but there comes a time when children can be responsible for themselves. The question is: When are children old enough to watch themselves? The answer to this question varies and depends on the individual child and the child’s desire to gain independence.

The University of Illinois’s Child Care Resource Service suggests assessing four aspects of your child’s personality to determine readiness to stay alone:

  • Desire for independence
  • Responsibility
  • Communication skills
  • Decision-making ability

The University of Illinois has also provided an evaluation of child readiness for self-care that you can complete in order to determine your child’s readiness. If your child shows signs of readiness in the four categories above, then you can consider allowing them to watch themselves for short periods of time.

Start this process with a trial run. Trial runs are a simple way to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the arrangement. You and your child should agree on a short amount of time for you to be away, such as going to the grocery store, going out to lunch or dinner, or shopping. Be sure to take your cell phone with you and stay near your house so that you can get home quickly if needed.

Even if children show signs of readiness for self-care, they need to be prepared to handle various situations, such as: being locked out of the house, an emergency, if their siblings are not behaving, etc. Discuss what you would like them to do if there is an unexpected knock at the door, if they smell smoke or gas, or if there is severe weather or an earthquake.

Communicate to your children the rules that you expect them to abide by while you are away. Make sure to write them down so that there is no confusion. Any time that you leave the house make sure to leave emergency information on hand. The University of Illinois created printable emergency information sheets that you can fill out and leave with your children or sitter.

If your child will also be watching siblings, or is interested in babysitting, it is a good idea to enroll your child in an American Red Cross Babysitting and Child Care Training class. This class covers many topics related to caring for children and includes CPR training.

Finally, the National Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests that you make sure to check with your local police department or child protective services agency regarding the age of children allowed to care for themselves or others. Currently, there is no national law identifying an accepted age. HHS provides an informational packet entitled “Leaving Your Child Home Alone,” which includes links for state-specific resources.

~Marissa Krupowicz, RN II

Marissa has spent seven years working in various NICUs. For the last three years, she’s called the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles home. She currently works in the Urology Outpatient Clinic, with her main focus being the biofeedback program.

This post is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Before undertaking any course of treatment or dietary/health changes, you should seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider.

For more insider advice, check out the rest of our Wellness 101 series!

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.