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Old enough to be home alone?

When are children old enough to be at home on their own?

Many parents wonder how old their kids should be before they are old enough to stay at home alone. This may be for economic reasons- mom or dad may be a single parent who cannot afford aftercare fees, for example, or perhaps the child is growing up, and, if mom and dad want to go out for the evening, they may wonder if it is still necessary to hire a babysitter. Ultimately, the answer seems to be “whenever he or she is responsible enough”!

The law, in particular, the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, doesn’t specify an age at which children are considered old enough to be left at home alone. A child is considered a child until the age of 18 in SA. There is legislation governing neglect and the rights of the child to proper family care and protection from any abuse or threat to the wellbeing of the child, but this is always within the context of the individual child.

No, I just LOOK young...


It’s quite easy to note the ways in which children, even of the same age, vary in degrees of maturity and responsibility. A child of 10 or 12 may well be able to cook for themselves and be aware of the possible dangers present in the home (and how to respond to an emergency situation), while a child of 15 may still require supervision and assistance. There is no exact age at which a child becomes responsible enough to look after themselves.

If you are considering leaving your responsible child at home alone, make sure to ease him into it. Start by leaving him for short periods, and then increase the duration of time where he is on his own. Don’t push him to stay alone at home if he is showing signs of distress, which may be anything from tearful “don’t go!” moments to nightmares.

9 tips for home alone kids:

•    Teach your child basic first aid.
•    Have an emergency drill, with a list of relevant telephone numbers on the fridge, and drills for fire/safety or medical emergencies. Make sure he can cope with difficult situations, and that he won’t panic.
•    Make sure medicines, swimming pool covers and household chemicals are secured.
•    Teach the number one rule: Don’t open the door to ANYONE!
•    Have rules: Your child must come straight home, homework/chores must be done/no friends are allowed to come over.
•    Get to know your neighbours, and make sure your kid checks in with you or one of them when he comes home.
•    Give him a house key (rather than hide it under a doormat), and make sure he knows not to enter the house if it appears that windows or doors have been disturbed.
•    Ensure he isn’t afraid. Your child needs to feel secure.
•    Make doubly sure he is capable of all of these measures before putting him in charge of other children- situations can get out of control very quickly- remember Macaulay Culkin in the movie “Home Alone”?

Essentially, you and your child should both be comfortable with him staying at home, based on a proven sense of responsibility and his maturity, and a plan for situations which could plausibly arise if you are not around.

It’s perfectly ok to err on the side of caution in this big step- after all, your child’s safety and security are your biggest concerns.

Take a look at our gallery below:

5 dangers your child faces when alone at home


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When would you be comfortable leaving your kids at home alone?
By: Scott Dunlop

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