Child Supervision Guidelines

Children Should be Supervised at All Times

Is it legal for your child to stay home alone? Agencies across Northern Virginia* recently developed a set of "supervision guidelines" for parents to consider before leaving a child alone. These are not laws, but are suggested ages for parents to use as a guideline. (*Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William). 

  • Supervision guidelines are listed in the table below and are available as a printable PDF.
  • Children who are in middle school or younger should have direct adult supervision.
  • If this cannot be arranged, parents need to use good judgment in deciding if children should be left alone and for how long.
  • Children and babysitters should have emergency telephone numbers and a telephone number to locate a parent or designated responsible adult.

Things to Consider First

Parents are ultimately responsible for their children. There is no “official” age that means a child has the skills and maturity level to be left alone. Consider specific circumstances and the child. Every child is different, maturing and developing life skills at very different ages. Even children in the same home are often ready at different ages.

Before you make the decision whether to have your child stay home alone, consider whether the following factors apply to him/her. If the answer is "yes" to any of the problems listed, your child should not be left unsupervised.

  • Accident prone
  • Developmentally delayed
  • Difficulty getting to or from school on time
  • Emotionally Disturbed (ED)
  • Expresses fears or worries about being left alone
  • Frequently gets into trouble
  • Mental health or physical health issues

Many school-age children fear being left alone, especially after dark. They may not admit this to their parents. Do not call the child "sissy" or "baby" and do not insist that he or she "grow up." It is important to discuss these fears with children and be sympathetic to their concerns.

Is My Child Ready? Ask Them:

  • What are our family rules?
  • Do you feel comfortable being home alone?
  • Could you handle an emergency situation? How would you do that?
  • What would you do if you lost your key?
  • How will you answer the phone? What if a caller asks to speak to an adult?
  • What would you do if someone comes to the door asking for help?
  • What if a friend comes to the door?
  • What would you do if you or your sibling got hurt, sick or upset?
  • What would you do if you started to feel worried/scared?

Is My Family Ready? Take These Steps:

  1. Write family rules together. Go over emergency contacts and discuss rules for phone and screen use, cooking, taking care of siblings, doing homework, playing outside, having friends over and answering the door.
  2. Help your child memorize their address and important telephone numbers.
  3. Post a list of emergency contacts. Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
  4. Hide a spare key in a safe place. Make sure door and window locks work and children know how to use them.
  5. Let a trusted neighbor know that your child may be home alone. Designate a safe place where your child can go if he or she feels scared or unsafe.
  6. Check in with your child by phone/text regularly.
  7. Teach home safety, such as how to use kitchen utensils, appliances, etc., if allowed. Safely store any dangerous items in your home, such as knives, matches, razors, guns, cleaning products and medications.

Child Supervision Guidelines

Age RangeSupervision / Action
Age 8 years and younger
Should not be left unsupervised
Age 9 to 10 yearsMay be ready to be left unsupervised up to 1.5 hours during daylight/early evening
Age 11 to 12 yearsMay be ready to be left unsupervised up to 3 hours during daylight/early evening
Age 13 to 15 years
May be ready to be left unsupervised more than 3 hours but not overnight
Age 16 and older
May be ready to be left unsupervised overnight for 1-2 days with a plan in place

Babysitting Guidelines

Age RangeSupervision / Action
Age 9 to 12 yearsMay act as "Parent Helper" with adult supervision
Age 13 yearsMay baby sit for children over age 4 for no more than 3 hours
Age 14 years and overMay baby sit infants and children

Child Care Classes

  • Some civic and church organizations offer child care classes for children as young as eleven. These classes enable them to become "Parent Helpers." 
  • They also teach responsibility to children who are going to be left alone or who may supervise younger children.
  • Please note: These organizations do not advocate that all children who take the class are able to supervise younger children.

A Word About Inadequate Supervision

  • Loudoun County Child Protective Services may be called about a situation involving inadequate supervision of children. A social worker may then need to assess the risk to the children.
  • The guidelines are suggested and may help to prevent such calls.

For more information

 For more information, call 703-771-KIDS (5437).