When is it safe to leave your kids home alone?

There's no set Virginia law about leaving children alone

ROANOKE, Va. – Summer break is here and with it, many regular routines are thrown into chaos. This time of year has many parents questioning what to do with their kids while they’re at work and when is the right time to let them stay home alone. 

In Virginia, there’s no set law about when it’s OK to leave your child at home alone, but many safety experts suggest waiting until they’re at least eight or 10 years old. 

Age isn’t always the best standard. The Department of Family and Protective Services says it’s important to think about how emotionally mature your child is. Also keep in mind the safety and layout of your home, and how well a child would be able to respond to an emergency if they were home alone. Those are some questions that may help you better determine the right time to let your child stay home for the summer when you head off to work.

For parents who feel it is the right time, there are still some conversations that Tiffany Bradbury, the community risk reduction specialist with Roanoke Fire EMS, says parents need to have with their kids.

“Emergency preparedness in general, severe thunderstorms, what to do if the power goes out,” she says. “Please don’t light candles, we have to have flashlights, just information like that. It would be a good idea to sit around the dinner table now that summer is here and just set some expectations for safety for your kids.”

Bradbury says it’s also important for kids to know their address. If they’re calling from a cell, the call could hit a Roanoke County or Salem tower, versus the department you actually live in. Making sure they know where to send help in case of an emergency is important. 

It’s also important to remind them about the importance of never answering the door for a stranger or letting them into your home. Kids should also never let anyone who calls know their parents are not home. 

Experts say it’s a good idea to start testing out your child’s independence a little bit at a time, leaving for the grocery store or on a quick errand before leaving them home for a full workday alone. Once you’ve decided they’re ready to be home alone, set some boundaries for what they can and can’t do while you’re gone. 

“My rule of thumb always was for my kids, if I’m not home, especially once they got to 15 or 16, you’re not cooking when I’m not home,” says Bradbury. “You can make yourself a sandwich, you can use the microwave, but you’re not using the stove when I’m not there. As adults, we can get distracted cooking, and kids get really distracted.”

She says the No. 1 cause of fires that Roanoke City firefighters respond to you is for people cooking French fries and grease on the stove. She says that’s why it’s a good idea to go ahead and put the stove off-limits when you are not home, regardless of what your kids want to clock.

As we enter the first full week of June, it’s also important to check your fire alarms and make sure they’re working. While the batteries only need to be charged once a year, it’s important to test the batteries every single month. You can do a quick test by pushing the button on the alarm and make sure it sounds.