While young children need constant direct supervision, older children and teens may be ready for indirect supervision, where a responsible adult or babysitter checks in on the child intermittently or at specified times while they are on their own.
When is it appropriate to start leaving a child at home alone for short periods of time?
Considerations that every parent must assess to answer this question include the child's age, health, temperament and maturity, as well as how many other children would be at home at the same time.
In most provinces and territories, the law is silent on the minimum legal age at which children can be left at home alone. It is the opinion of the Canada Safety Council that parents should not consider allowing a child stay at home alone before age 10 - and even then, only if the child is mature enough, and there is a responsible adult nearby to help out if needed.
Questions for parents to ask:
- Does your child feel comfortable about being home alone?
- Do you feel comfortable about your child being home alone?
- Can you trust your child to follow directions? Does he/she understand and remember instructions, whether written or oral?
- Can your child handle normal and unexpected situations?
- Are you able to communicate readily with him or her when you are not at home?
- Can your child always reach someone to help in case of emergency?
If you decide your child is ready to be left home alone for short periods of time:
- Prepare your child to deal with situations that may arise, such as what to do if someone comes to the door.
- Specify how his or her time is to be spent. Set firm rules with clear dos and don’ts.
- Keep in touch – make sure you are reachable by cell phone.
- Make sure your home is safe and secure.
- Limit the time you leave your child at home alone.
- Remember, a child who may be ready to care for him/herself for a short period of time may not be able to care for younger siblings or other children.
How long should children be left at home alone?
- For children ages 10 to 12, periods of indirect supervision up to two hours may be acceptable. For children ages 13 to 14, longer periods of indirect supervision up to five hours may be acceptable. For children ages 15 to 16 years old, it may be possible to leave them alone for a whole day as long as the parent is available by phone should an emergency arise.*
To prepare children for the responsibilities of self care, the Canada Safety Council offers the Home Alone Program
which focuses on how to prevent problems, handle real-life situations, and keep safely and constructively occupied while at home alone. For more information please contact us at (613) 739-1535.
*Age-related indirect supervision guidelines from Durham Children’s Aid Society.
-- Last updated April 2015