At What Age Should You Leave Your Child Alone at Home?
Parents find themselves facing a tricky conundrum when it comes to considering ‘how old can a child be left alone?’ The reality there is no hard and fast rule. There is no law telling you what you should do in a nice clearly age-related way. In fact, the ultimate judgment call rests squarely at your feet. Worse, for parents, it’s not the fear of prosecution if you make the wrong call, it’s your concerns for your child. So how old can a child be left alone? How do you make the right decision?
Consider the Law, the NSPCC and the Facts
Whilst the law doesn’t state a blanket age, it doesn’t leave you in the dark completely. It is an offence to leave a child at home alone if doing so places them at risk. Furthermore, the government itself refers to the NSPCC for guidance on what to do rather than spelling it out. The NSPCC are somewhat clearer in their guidelines. They suggest some general rules of thumb:
• Children under 12 years are ‘rarely mature enough’
• Children under 16 should not be left home alone overnight
• Babies, toddlers and the very young should never be left alone
So you still need to effectively risk assess the situation for your individual circumstances and child, and the law means you can’t get it wrong. This begs the question – how do you decide when your child is old enough to leave home alone.
How to Decide
Parents usually find themselves facing one of the following problems: the eagerly independent child who is pushing you out the door in their bid for free reign; the secondary-aged child adamant that they don’t need a ‘babysitter’; the wary child scared to be left even though you feel they are ready for independence. All situations can leave you second-guessing yourself.
Factors you really need to consider concern the child themselves:
• how mature they are
• how adaptable they are
• Also, you need to consider how comfortable you feel about it.
The first time you leave your child at home alone should see ‘ticks’ on all these factors. It’s about what is right for your family.
Whilst there’s no doubting that babies, toddlers and young children, therefore, need a babysitter, it puts you in a grey area for later primary-aged and early secondary-aged children. It’s also important to remember that there is a huge difference between leaving your 10-year-old for 30 minutes while you pop to a local shop within phone contact, and leaving that same 10-year-old for 3 hours after dark while you go out. Their comfort levels will be different according to the situation.
Importantly, you also need to give consideration to the worst-case scenario. Just because your child is happy and capable of being left when all is tickety-boo, and they have their tablet and a snack in their hand, it doesn’t mean they would be capable of acting appropriately if there was an emergency. Whatever age you leave your child, you need to be certain that they not only know what to do in an emergency but that they will have the ability to follow that in an actual emergency situation.
You also need to consider two further factors here: any special needs, and if there is more than one child being left. You will know better than anyone if your child’s special needs impact their independence and ability to be left unattended. It adds an additional complicating factor. Similarly, whilst you may think leaving siblings together is better than leaving one child alone, do you know they will still behave sensibly if they fall out?
The NSPCC have a useful tool to help you decide if your child is ready to be left home alone.
When Your Child is Ready to Leave Home Alone
Once you have decided, in principle, that both you and your child are happy for them to be left at home alone for short periods, it’s time to consider how you do it. It should be planned carefully with practice runs whereby the child acts out different scenarios. They should practice finding your mobile number, making calls to it, and contacting other emergency contacts such as the neighbours. They should also be clear on the rules such as not using the oven or going on the trampoline, for example. Talk them through what they should do if the phone rings or someone comes to the door.
When you first leave them, make sure you aren’t far or for long. An older child or teen feeling confident in principle is different from how they feel in practice. Start with a very short trip out. If in doubt, cancel the arrangement and revisit again in 6 months.
What to do if Your Child Isn’t Ready
Different children mature at different rates. Some are more sensible than others. Some are more prone to worrying. Therefore, just because your child’s friend is happy and able to be left at home alone doesn’t mean yours should be. If your child isn’t ready to be left home alone, then you still have plenty of options. The most obvious solution is to use a babysitter.
Babysitters aren’t just for evenings out, although of course, these are our most common bookings. You can use Sitters for ad hoc childcare in the holidays when perhaps you’re having problems arranging work cover, or to simply be an adult in the home on-call for your younger secondary aged kids so you can go out without any anxiety.
Professional babysitters at Sitters tailor their care to the age of your children meaning children of any age feel happy and confident. All of our babysitters are childcare professionals meaning they are both experienced and mature enough to take responsibility for your children. Register today and take the fear out of feeling you have to leave your child alone before they are ready.