Children and Teens
October 3, 2023
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Is your child ready to be home alone?

Is your child ready to be home alone?

When deciding if your child is ready to stay home alone, it’s important to ask yourself and them some key questions, test out possible scenarios and ensure your home is as safe and secure as possible.

In Victoria, it's against the law to leave a child alone for too long. But how long is "too long"? An hour? The whole afternoon? And does it matter where they are? Is it safer for kids to be alone at home compared to outside?

“In Victoria, it is an offence for a person responsible for a child to leave the child unattended for any longer than is reasonable, without making appropriate arrangements for the child’s supervision and care. This includes leaving a child at home, or in a car, or anywhere else unattended. In Victoria there is no set age at which it is legal to leave a child unattended. It depends on the child and the situation.”

Department of Families, Fairness and Housing

Figuring out when your child is ready to stay home by themselves is a big step – for them and for you. Every kid is different, and there's no set age when all kids are ready for this.

Trusting your kids to be safe at home, especially between ages 9 to 12, can be nerve-wracking for parents. But there are good reasons to let them have a little alone time. It can teach them to be responsible, and hey, you might even get out for some kid-free time!

How to know if they are ready

Knowing when your kids are old enough to be left home alone depends on the individual child. Most experts say that by age 10 or 11, it’s okay to leave a child alone for short periods of time (under an hour) during the day, provided they’re not scared, and you think they’re mature and responsible enough to handle it. 

However, you may want to wait another year or two before leaving them alone at night.

Questions to ask yourself

Ask yourself these questions to help evaluate if the time is right to leave your child home alone:

  • Do you live in a peaceful rural or residential neighbourhood?
  • Does the area have a low crime rate?
  • Do you have an alarm system? Does your tween know how to operate it?
  • Can your child understand and follow basic rules, like locking the door after coming inside and not opening it for strangers?
  • Has your child shown good judgment in past situations?
  • Do you have friends, family members, or neighbours who can get to your house quickly in case of an emergency?
  • Has your tween shown signs of responsibility in the past?
  • Is your preteen comfortable with the idea of staying home alone or are they likely to be scared?

Things to discuss with your child

It’s important to talk with your child about the responsibilities of staying home alone and how they should react in different situations.

  • How does your child feel about staying at home alone?
  • What will your child do if strangers come to the door? (Neighbourhood Watch advises to teach your kids to yell “Mum – there is someone at the door” if there is a ring or a knock and they are not expecting anyone).
  • What will your child do if the phone rings?
  • What activities are allowed if your child is home alone?
  • What activities are not allowed?
  • How should your child contact you?
  • Who should your child turn to for help and how (if your child can’t contact you)?
  • What is an emergency? What should your child do?

Getting ready

Before you leave your child at home by themselves, make sure you 

  • Make a list of emergency phone numbers that includes:
    • Your mobile phone
    • Family members who live nearby
    • Trusted neighbours
    • Triple Zero
  • Check smoke alarms are working and change the battery if needed.
  • Lock all windows and sliding doors, including on the second storey.
  • Check the door locks are working and are easy to use. 
  • Leave keys in deadbolts in case of an emergency.
  • Activate parental controls on televisions, streaming services, the internet and your child’s smartphone. 
  • Give them a spare key to the house.
  • Make sure the hot water temperature is set at around 60 degrees.
  • Test the electrical safety switch is working.
  • Lock away any medications or dangerous objects.
  • Show them how to use the security alarm, camera doorbell and any security cameras. 

Test scenarios with your child

Before you let your tween stay home alone test out some “what if” scenarios with them. Encourage them to consider what they would do in these situations and agree on the safest way to respond. 

  • “A stranger is ringing the doorbell. What do you do?”
  • “The smoke alarm is going off. What do you do?”
  • “The power goes off. What do you do?”
  • “Your little sister is throwing a temper tantrum. What do you do?”
  • “You injure yourself. What do you do?”
  • “Your friends call and want you to go somewhere with them. What do you do?

And now you should both be ready to give staying home alone a go.  Despite having discussed all the above, you want to ensure that you and your child are calm.  For the first attempt, only leave your child for 30 to 60 minutes at the most.  Once that goes smoothly, check that both of you are feeling comfortable and give it a longer try next time.

What should your kids do if there is someone at the door?

You probably tell your kids not to open the door if someone knocks or rings the bell – especially if you aren’t home.

But that is giving a potential burglar the wrong message. The crook thinks “Sweet – no one is home”.  

Instead of telling your kids not to open the door when you’re not home, tell them to yell loudly: “Dad! Mum! There’s someone at the door!”.  

Thieves want a low risk and high reward. They will usually knock or ring the bell first to see if there’s someone’s home. If they think there is someone around, their risk of being caught increases and they will likely take off to try somewhere else.

If you’re not keen on your kids yelling out, investing in a camera doorbell that you can interact with via your smartphone. That way you can respond to unwelcome visitors even when you’re not there. 

Get Police Assistance

For all emergencies and immediate Police assistance
Call: 000
To report non-urgent crimes or events 24 hours a day
Call: 131 444
To report information about a crime contact Crime Stoppers on
1800 333 000

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Neighbourhood Watch Victoria acknowledges the 38 mobs, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live, and gather as employees and volunteers. We recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

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