Is it OK for children to be left at home alone? Here’s what to ask first

WASHINGTON — Is it OK to leave your child at home unsupervised, or should you get a baby sitter or after-school care? Parents trying to decide can consult guidelines put together by regional social service departments.

Advice developed with the help of Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) of Northern Virginia suggests parents ask kids questions, such as: whether they’re able to follow important family rules; whether they feel comfortable being home alone; and whether they’re confident they could handle an emergency.

It’s against the law in Maryland to leave children younger than 8 unattended. There’s no such law in Virginia.

The SCAN guidelines state that children 7 and younger should never be left alone for any period of time. Age-appropriate recommendations incrementally increase the amount of unsupervised time families might consider for their children.

As for that first big step of deciding whether it’s OK — SCAN recommends asking children questions such as:

  • What would you do if you get locked out?
  • What would you do if you or your sibling gets hurt?
  • What if someone calls asking to speak to your parent?
  • What if someone comes to the door asking for help, or to use the phone?
  • What if you start feeling worried of scared about being alone?

If you think your child is mature enough and are ready to give it a try, SCAN suggestions include designating a nearby home your child can go to if they’re scared, posting a list of emergency contacts and hiding a spare key.

Also, discuss rules and expectations about using the phone, playing outside, having friends over, doing homework and answering the door.

Find jurisdiction-specific guidelines for greater Prince William, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia here.

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