I'm a parenting expert – here's when you can start leaving your kids home alone, the law & the rules on babysitting

Independence is an important part of growing up, and there are many ways in which parents can facilitate this, including leaving their child home alone.

But at what age is it ok to do this?

Rebecca Smith, a psychotherapist and mum of four from Derby, says: “I regularly leave my 13 and 11-year-old daughters home alone for short periods of time.

''They are sensible and we have spoken to them about fire hazards and not answering the door to strangers.

''They know which neighbours they can turn to if they need help in an emergency.”


And it isn’t just Rebecca who has opted to use this ‘motherly instinct’ approach.

Ebony King from East London, who runs charity Elevate Her UK, is happy to leave her 13-year-old son in charge of her seven-year-old for short periods of time, as she feels she can trust him.

“I also have CCTV in and outside the house, so he knows not to do anything stupid,” she says.

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So, are Rebecca and Ebony right in trusting their motherly instinct? 

The NSPCC recommends not leaving a child under 12 years home alone.

Even after that age, if they don’t feel comfortable, they shouldn’t be left alone and you should get childcare instead.

The law is more vague; it doesn’t state an age when you can leave a child on their own, but states it is an offence to leave a child alone if doing so places them at risk.

All children mature differently, so the judgement is left to the parent.


But how do you know that your child is mature enough?

Well, that comes largely down to how they cope being independent in other areas. 

If they are very capable and you know that, like Rebecca, they understand the potential dangers and where to seek help if they need it, they’re probably ready to be left at home alone.

It is a good idea to talk to your child about how they feel being left alone though – have they any worries? Do they feel safe? And then talk through anything that is bothering them, giving them some reassurance if needed.

Once everyone is happy, it’s important to set out some ground rules. Veronique Mertes, a hypnotherapist from Devon, says for her 15-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl, “We have one big rule – no baking or cooking”.

The rule came after they had a house fire 5 years ago. Nobody was in the house at the time, but it serves as a good reminder of what could go wrong.

To begin with, you might only want to leave your child for a short period of time. Once they’ve demonstrated they can cope, you can start increasing the length of time.

Rebecca says: “I think it helps to build their independence and confidence and supports them in developing the skills to resolve any conflicts they may have with each other, without depending on an adult.” 

Leaving older siblings in charge can be a worry and, while Rebecca is not wrong in her approach, it is advisable to consider how well your kids get on. 

Having a chat with your eldest before you leave to ensure that they are happy to be left in charge is also a good idea, as is a chat with the youngest to make sure that they are also happy.


How about babysitters?

Many teenagers like to offer babysitting as means of earning money before they are 16, as many other jobs require them to be older.

But is this against the law?

It isn’t illegal to have an under 16 to babysit, as long as it doesn’t impact their education.

Again, it is left to your own judgement. But it is worth noting that if you hire a babysitter who is under the age of 16, they are too young to be legally responsible if any harm comes to your child.

And if you leave your child with someone who isn’t able to take good care of them, this could be seen as neglect in the eyes of the law.

As with your own children, it’s worth making sure that your babysitter is comfortable with what to do in an emergency and is mature enough to take action if needed.

It might be safest to chat with the babysitter’s parents and let a neighbour know your plans, in case help is needed and you can’t get home in time.

Kirsty Ketley, 40, is a parenting consultant with over 20 years of experience as an Early Years Practitioner. She’s mum to Ella, eight, and Leo, four.

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The NSPCC has drawn up their own advice and guidelines on when children can be left alone.

They say that under no circumstances should babies, toddlers or young children be left by themselves and children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight.

Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time.

The charity says you should never leave a child home alone if they don’t feel ready, or if you don’t feel they’re ready.

Sometimes it’s better to leave them with someone – particularly if they’re nervous or have complex needs.

Infants and young children aged 0-3 years old should never be left alone – even for 15 minutes while you pop down the road.

This applies not just to leaving them home alone but also in your car while you run into the shops.

Make sure that any potentially dangerous things like tools, knives and prescription medicines are safely out of harm's way before you go out.

If they have allergies, be careful that there's nothing in the house that could trigger a reaction.

If you have pets, think about whether it's safe to leave your child home with them unsupervised.

Being left alone is an opportunity for your child to experiment with things like alcohol or drugs (however unlikely it might seem) – so it's a good idea to have a conversation about safety and what to do in an emergency.


Even though there is no set age in the law on when children can be left alone, parents can still be prosecuted for leaving kids alone.

If it is deemed that kids have been neglected because there are no adults around, criminal proceedings can be brought against the parents.

And if they are found guilty of neglect, they can face a fine or even a prison sentence.

In 2014, dad Tim Haines, 53, was prosecuted for leaving his sick two-year-old daughter, Iset, alone in a car for five minutes while he ran into a chemist to buy some Calpol.

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