Whether it is due to an emergency or a change in childcare, the time will come when you may have to leave your children home alone. While you know that your 16 year old can stay home alone and your 5 year old can’t, it can be tough to know what is the appropriate age in the middle of that rage is to start letting your kids stay home alone after school.

Children left unsupervised or in the care of young siblings are at increased risk for accidental injury and behavioral and academic problems, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. While many children will tell you that they are ready to stay home alone, there are some things to consider before you leave your child alone.

Circumstances for Staying Home Alone

While some states have laws regarding the age limit to leave kids at home alone, Florida does not. Instead, the The United States Department of Health and Human Services encourages parents to consider some circumstances before you leave. Some of the things you should consider include:

* Are your children physically and mentally able to care for themselves?

* Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?

* Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?

* How long will your child be left home alone at one time? Will it be during the day, evening or night?

* Will the child need to fix a meal?

* How often will the children be expected to care for themselves?

* How many children are being left home alone?

* Is your home safe and free of hazards?

* How safe is your neighborhood?

* Does your child know basic first aid?

If there is anything you are not sure about, like whether your child knows basic first aid or the rules of answering the door, cooking a meal, or caring for themselves, it may not be the right time to leave them home alone. Many parents find that somewhere between 10 and 12 years old is the right time to start leaving their child at home alone for short period of time.

Remember: just because your child may be ready to stay home alone does not mean they will be ready to watch their younger siblings at home alone.

Make a Practice Run and Prepare

Before you leave your child alone for a long day, KidsHealth.org recommends to try to set aside time for a practice run. Take a trip to the grocery store or somewhere close by that you can leave if needed. Make sure to write down all of the phone numbers that your child might need, including where and how to reach you, a doctor, poison control, and neighbors that you know

will be home or available. You should also make sure they have a fire escape plan as well as knowledge of where the first aid kits are located in the house.

While you are gone, try to test them with different emergency scenarios. Have a friend come and knock on the door to see if they will answer the door for strangers. Set ground rules for having friends over and call to check in or have a neighbor stop in to make sure that the rules are being followed. If the child breaks the rules on the trial run, they are not ready to be left at home alone.

Have a Back-Up Plan

Sometimes, as much as we want them to be ready, they just aren’t, which is when it comes in handy to have a back-up plan. One back-up plan is to have a reliable after-school or daycare where you can be sure your kids will have fun and be safe.

One great option for parents looking to let their kids have fun and learn after school is the YMCA. Another option is to check out some of the amazing schools in the Bay Area, which we have featured and compiled in our January issue’s Education Guide, many of which offer after school care and activities.

Friends, neighbors, and family members make great back-ups as well in a pinch.

If you have any hesitation about leaving your kids at home alone it is always best to go with your gut.

For more information on child-care and leaving kids home alone, visit TBParenting.com. You can also find a directory of after school and day-care programs at TBParenting.com/Guides.