The Census Bureau estimates that nearly 7 million school-age children are routinely left home alone.
Under Maryland law, a child must be at least eight years old to be left alone in a house or car. State law also says a child must be at least 13 years old to baby-sit another child. Generally, it is left up to the parent to decide whether a child who is at least 8 is mature enough to be home alone.
It’s not just a question of age, as a parent, you know your child. You need to ask yourself whether a child is mature enough and responsible enough to stay home alone, and for how long.
Teach your children about hazards around the home, and make sure they know what to do in an emergency. The first time your kids stay home alone, it should be for a short time and you should be nearby.
Carry a cell phone and keep it turned on. Make sure your children know where you will be and what time you will return. In addition to your cell phone number, post emergency numbers (police, fire, EMS, doctor and the poison control hotline, 800-222-1222) and a friends or neighbors number by every phone in the home.
Safe Kids also recommends these precautions for your child:
- Never let anyone into the house. Do not open the door to strangers.
- Use caller ID or an answering machine to screen calls. When answering the phone, never tell callers you are home alone. Tell them your mom/dad is busy and will call them back.
- Keep all doors and windows locked.
- If coming home to an empty house, never enter the house if there are open or broken windows or doors, or other signs of forced entry. Leave and get help from a trusted neighbor.
- Stay in the house until parents return home. Do not invite friends over.
- Tell parents of any fears or concerns.
- Make sure potentially poisonous or hazardous household items are locked up out of reach especially medications, matches, lighters, weapons and cleaning products.
- Review your family’s escape plan and make sure your children know what to do if the smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector goes off. Practice two escape routes from each room.
- Show your children where you keep your first-aid kit and how to use basic first aid supplies.
- Prepare a snack or meal in advance preferably one that does not need to be heated. If your children will need to cook, remind them never to leave an oven or stove unattended while cooking and to turn it off when they are finished.