North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service

Parenting Pipeline


A newsletter for parents of fourth-grade children from the North Dakota State University Extension Service

Self-Care: Is It OK For Your Child?

Is Your Child Ready To Stay Alone?

Knowing if a child is ready to spend time alone at home isn't always easy. Children vary in maturity, and there are other important factors, such as the location of your home, that may have an influence on your decision. The age of your child alone is not enough information to determine this.

There is no magic age at which a child is ready to stay alone at home, although readiness signs often appear between the ages of 10 and 12. Look for signs that give you an indication your child may be ready to stay at home alone. Readiness signs may include:

Location of Your Home Makes a Difference

You may feel your child is ready to stay home alone, but there are other important considerations including these:

After considering some of these situations, you may decide your child should not stay alone even if he shows signs of readiness.

Families are Different

Will your child be left at home with siblings? There can be positive things about siblings being at home together, but there is also the possibility of physical or psychological abuse among siblings. There may be concerns when an older sibling assumes more than a fair share of responsibility for younger siblings.

The circumstances in each family are different. The decision to be for or against self-care won't be the same in every family. What appears to work successfully in another family may not work for yours.

Once you have made a decision that seems best for you and your family, try it for a few weeks. Monitor your situation and be flexible enough to make changes if needed.

Preparing Your Child for Self-Care

If you choose self-care, preparing your child and yourself can make it a safe experience. Children who stay alone at home may need to react to a number of emergencies such as:

It is important to teach children telephone skills, personal safety skills and home safety skills so they are better prepared to handle possible emergency situations. It is also important that your family decide on house rules to serve as a guide when you are not home. House rules about the following may be helpful:

It's usually best to work with your child over an extended time on self-care guidelines. Too much information at one time may be overwhelming. Information is usually remembered better if situations are acted out. An actual fire drill, an acted-out telephone conversation, a response to a pretend storm or to a pretend stranger at the door may be good teaching devices. Programs and home study materials are available in some communities to help parents work out a self-care plan. Check with your NDSU Extension Service county office, school, church or county social services office to see if such information is available.

Giving Self-Care a Try

Once you have worked with your child and feel quite confident that she is prepared with adequate knowledge and skills to stay alone, you may want to set up a trial period. If your child knows it is a testing period, making needed changes may be easier. During the trial period, make a special effort to talk frequently with your child about her feelings, discuss house rules and review safety skills. If you feel comfortable with your arrangement, proceed with confidence but be flexible in making changes as needed. Keep communication lines open with your child. Feelings about being home alone, house rules and safety skills are important to discuss even through the teen years.

This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with fourth-graders by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your extension agent for more parenting information and other home economics programs.

NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam era veterans status, or sexual orientation; and are an equal opportunity employer.

This publication will be made available in alternative format upon request to people with disabilities (701) 231-7881.

North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service