Know when your child is ready to be home alone

Staying home alone is a rite of passage for many children. But how old is “old enough”? Child experts agree that children are generally ready to stay home alone for a short time around the age of 11 or 12. However, children develop at different rates, and there are many factors to consider when determining whether they are ready.

Most states don’t have regulations or laws to determine when a child is considered old enough to stay home alone or when they are of babysitting age. For information about your specific local regulations and laws, contact your county’s children and youth services agency.

Preparation is key to success

Is my child ready to be home alone?

It is important to recognize that the right time for your child to be home alone will vary by family, so trust your instincts. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips to make staying home alone as safe as possible:

Determine if your child is ready for the responsibility

Consider your child's maturity, where you live, your nearby support network and how far away you will be.

You may want to evaluate how your child has demonstrated responsible behavior in the past. The following questions may help:

  • Is your child physically and mentally able to care for themself?
  • Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?
  • Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
  • How does your child respond to unfamiliar or stressful situations?

Plan ahead

Once you have decided that your child is ready to handle this new responsibility, take some time to plan and talk as a family to ensure a successful experience. Make sure your child knows your cell phone number and how to reach key family members if needed. Post these details in a visible location, such as on your refrigerator or a family bulletin board. Make sure your child is familiar with how and when to call 911. Consider having your child take a basic first aid and safety class or a program that teaches them how to be safe at home.

Problem-solve and set the rules

You will need to talk through common situations and potential emergencies so your child knows how to respond. Be sure your child knows which situations require urgent attention and which can wait until a parent's home. 

Kids of all ages need to recognize rules and boundaries to keep them safe. Provide rules about who can visit your home, whether your child can play outside and where your child can go when you are not home. Discuss if your child should answer the phone or door. Provide options for what your child can and cannot do when they're home alone, such as cooking and how they use media. Having a set list of daily chores and tasks can help keep them busy.

Try it out

During the first few times that your child is home alone, set them up for success by keeping the time frame short or picking a time of day without more complex responsibilities, such as cooking. As both you and your child become more comfortable, you can extend the time your child is home alone.

Teach kids how to be safe at home

Penn State Health offers Safe Sitter programs to help prepare a child to stay home alone or care for other children. Safe Sitter Inc. is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing individuals with the life and safety skills they need for when they are home alone, watching younger siblings or babysitting. Safe Sitter began because of a tragedy: the accidental death of a nurse’s young child while in the care of an adult babysitter. Recognizing the vulnerability of young children when cared for by unprepared providers, Dr. Patricia Keener created a program to teach young teens how to be better, safer babysitters. For more than 40 years, Safe Sitter has been a leader in providing life skills, safety skills and child care training.


Safe@Home is a 90-minute virtual program for students 10 to 12 years old, who have expressed interest in assuming the responsibility of staying home alone. Students learn how to practice safe habits, how to prevent unsafe situations and what to do when faced with dangers, such as power failures or weather emergencies. The program also introduces them to the Safe Sitter First Aid Chart. They will learn a system that helps them assess and respond to injuries and illnesses, preparing them for their first steps toward independence.

Safe Sitter Essentials

Safe Sitter Essentials is a 5 ½ hour program designed to prepare students 12 to 15 years old to be safe when they’re home alone, watching younger siblings or babysitting. The instructor-led class, which is offered in person at various locations in the community, is filled with fun games and role-playing exercises.

Course content:

  • Safety skills - Students learn how to prevent unsafe situations and what to do when faced with dangers, such as power failures or weather emergencies.
  • Child care skills - Students learn tips to manage behavior that will help them stay in control of themselves and the children in their care. Students also learn the ages and stages of child development, as well as practice diapering.
  • First aid and rescue skills - Learning skills, such as choking rescue, is often students’ favorite part of the class. Students also learn a system to help them assess and respond to injuries and illnesses.
  • Life and business skills - The ability to screen babysitting jobs, discuss fees and greet employers will set students up for success now and in the future. Students practice these skills through various role-plays.

Important notes:

Students must bring their lunch, snacks and drinks.

This course does not provide Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. For a list of upcoming community CPR classes, check out our Resuscitation Sciences Training Center.

Local class offerings

Penn State Health offers Safe@Home and Safe Sitter Essentials. Email us to be placed on our contact list for upcoming classes.

Safe@Home is offered monthly free of charge. Safe Sitter Essentials is offered several times per year for $25, if paying by check, and $20, if paying in cash.