Just Ask Us: How old do my children have to be before they can legally stay home alone?

February 11, 2019

Q: How old do my children have to be before they can legally stay home alone?

A: In Wisconsin, there are no laws stating the age at which a child can be home alone.

That means it’s a judgment call for parents.

Parents deciding whether to leave children home alone should assess their physical, mental, social and emotional maturity, according to guidelines from the Madison Fire Department.

“There is no magical age when children develop the maturity and good sense they need to stay alone,” the department said. “Some children display these abilities around age 12, or even sooner; others do so when they’re older.”

If children get ready for school on time, do homework with little assistance and can discuss their feelings, they could be ready to stay home alone, according to the department.

Examples of questions parents should answer are whether their child can lock and unlock the doors and windows to their home, solve small problems on their own but know when to ask for help, mediate conflicts between siblings and handle responsibility like watching out for younger siblings, among others.

“When the time is right, staying home alone can be a positive experience for children,” the department said. “A child may become more responsible and feel proud about staying home alone, if he or she is ready for it.”

Other considerations could be the safety of your neighborhood, how long they’ll be alone and if there’s an adult nearby that a child can go to for help.

Before allowing a child to stay home alone, parents should develop rules and a schedule, the department said.

Only a bout a dozen states have laws defining the age — ranging from 6 to 14 years old — a child can stay home alone, according to the Washington Post.

For more information about determining whether to allow your child to stay home alone, go to go.madison.com/home-alone or go.madison.com/children-alone.

— Chris Aadland