Home alone How to decide whether to leave your child home alone

Boy lying on sofa backDeciding if your child is ready to be left home alone can be a tricky decision.

There are lots of things to think about. Plus, there are no hard and fast ‘home alone’ rules or laws because every child is different. Whether you or your child are comfortable with the idea will often depend on how mature and adaptable your child is – and we all know how much this can vary from child to child.

We hope this advice will help you make up your mind about whether leaving your child home alone is a good idea. And if not, we’ve got some other useful ideas to help.

What the law says

Strange as it may seem, there’s no set age for leaving children home alone. The law simply says that you shouldn’t leave a child alone if they’ll be at risk.

There’s such a wide variation in the rate that children mature that it would be almost impossible to come up with a “one size fits all” law. Instead, the choice is left to parents. They know their children best and can use their own judgement.

Boy banging on cooking pots

That’s not to say that there are no laws on leaving children home alone. Parents who are judged to have put a child at risk by leaving them on their own can be taken to court and even sent to prison.

There might not be a specific legal age to leave children alone but it’s safe to say babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone, even if it’s just while you pop down the road. Even if they’re sleeping peacefully when you leave they could well wake up and get very upset when you’re not there to look after them.

Things to consider before leaving a child home alone

No one knows your child quite as well as you do – so use your knowledge of what they’re really like to answer these questions. This won’t give you a definite answer about whether the time is right to leave your child alone at home, but it’ll certainly give you plenty to think about.

 

  • Does your child seem to be responsible and mature for their age and always do what you tell him or her?
  • Would they be able to fix themselves something to eat and drink and would you be happy with them using the cooker or microwave?
  • Can you imagine how they’d cope in an emergency like a power cut or a flooded bathroom?
  • Would they know what to do if the phone rang or someone came to the door?
  • Would they know how to contact you or another family member or friend if they needed to?
  • How would they feel about being left alone – pleased to be given the responsibility or scared by the thought of it?

 

But remember, if you or your child are even the teeniest bit unsure about leaving them at home on their own, it’s always best to be on the safe side and arrange some other kind of care for them such as a babysitter or childminder.

If you decide to leave your child at home

Like most things, it’s best to talk everything through and set some ground rules when you’re planning to leave them home alone. After all, it’s probably going to be just as worrying for them as it is for you.

First, and most importantly, you should have a chat about how they feel about being left alone. Talk about anything that’s bothering them and discuss a solution. For example, they might be happier about being left alone if they know a neighbour’s going to come and look in on them from time to time – it could help put both your minds at rest.

It’s also a good idea to talk about what they’re going to do while you’re out. For example, agree whether they can have a friend round or even go over to a friend’s house.

You should definitely point out the risks of mentioning that they’re home alone on social media as it’s quite possible that all their online friends could take this as an invitation to come visiting.

Make sure they’re clear about what time you’ll be getting back and how you’ll let them know if your plans change. Leave all the numbers that you can be contacted on and also give them the number of a family member or friend in case they can’t reach you or need some help straight away.

While we’re on the subject, we know you’ll want to keep in touch yourself. Give your child a call every so often. You could also ask a friend or neighbour to pop in and check, to put your mind at rest.

It hardly needs saying, but make sure that any potentially dangerous things like tools, knives and medicines are safely out of harm’s way before you go out.

How to choose the perfect babysitter

Sometimes it might just be better to arrange for someone to stay with your child instead of leaving them home alone.

You and your child will probably like it best if it’s someone they know already but you should think carefully about leaving an older brother or sister in charge. After all, if they fall out – and no matter how close siblings are most of the time there’s always the chance of an argument – you won’t be around to make the peace.

Plus, you need to be confident that your older child will be comfortable with the responsibility you’re giving them.

If there isn’t a suitable family member or friend who can help out then you could arrange a babysitter. If you do, here are some tips to help.

Tips for choosing a babysitter

Choosing a childminder, made easy

If you’re going to be away from home often it could be a good idea to think about using a childminder.  

There will be registered nurseries, childminders and after school clubs near you where you know your child will be safe, looked after and with other children.

Your local council can give you details or you can look online at:

If you’re worried about a child who’s left home alone?

We all want a world where our children, and everyone else’s too, are as safe and happy as they possibly can be.

It may be that you aren’t quite sure about whether a child you know is being left alone before they’re ready. If you don’t feel comfortable about talking to the child’s parent or carer yourself, then talk to us.

telephone handset

Our helpline counsellors are here to offer confidential advice and support and can help you figure out the best way to keep a child safe.

Calls are free, and you don’t even have to tell us who you are.

If you think the child who you are worried about is in real and immediate danger then you should call 999 straight away.

Find out more

Staying safe away from home

This guide to keeping your child safe offers advice for parents on when to allow children to be out on their own.
When can you let them go?

ChildLine

ChildLine is our free, confidential helpline for children and young people. Whenever children need us, ChildLine is there for them – by phone, email or live chat.

0800 1111

Contact ChildLine

Call the NSPCC helpline

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our professional counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support.

Call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Report a concern

Neglect

Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child's basic needs. It's dangerous and children can suffer serious and long-term harm.
Read more about neglect