Deciding 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.
The advice below is there to help you make up your mind about whether leaving your child home alone is a good idea, as well as tips for choosing appropriate childcare if you decide it's not.
We also give advice on what you can do if you're worried about a child who is being left at home alone.
Is your child ready to be left home alone?
It can be really hard to decide whether your child is ready to be left at home alone but we've got a new tool 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.
That’s not to say that there are no laws on leaving children home alone. Under the Children and Young Persons (England and Wales) Act 1933, the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 and the Children and Young Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1968, parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect. This means that they can be fined or sent to prison if they are judged to have placed a child at risk of harm by leaving them at home alone, regardless of where in the UK the child lives.
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. They would not be able to protect themselves in an emergency and may even try to leave the property to find you.
Please see our advice on baby and toddler safety for more information on keeping young children safe.
Our advice on leaving a child at home
- Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
- 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
- Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight
- Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone
- A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, regardless of their age
- If a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling
- When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out - would they both be safe?
Read further advice on how to decide if your child is ready to be left at home alone.
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? Do they have these contact numbers to hand?
- 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.
Finding it hard to decide?
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.
It's better to leave them for a short time at first, no more than 20 minutes, then build this up over time.
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.
Who else can help?
If you’re worried about a child who’s left home alone?
We all want a world where our children, and everyone else's, are as safe and happy as possible.
After reading our advice you may have concerns for other children who have been left alone. So what should you do if you think a child has been left alone and you have even the slightest feeling that they are too young in age or maturity?
Call the Police on the non-emergency number 101 while it is happening.
You don't need to say who you are but if you know the child's address, officers will be able to attend the property to check on the child and speak with the adults responsible. This is called a Safe and Well check and is something the Police receives requests for on a regular basis.
You may not know the child's name or exact age but you will need to know their address.
The Police will handle the situation sensitively. Like you, they only want what's best for the child.
If you don't wish to call the Police, contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 as soon as possible. A Helpline counsellor can share the concerns with the Police on your behalf.
If a child is in immediate danger, do not delay calling the Police on 999.
If you're worried about a child who has been left at home alone before or believe they are going to be left again, please contact our helpline:
- Call us for free 0808 800 5000
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can discuss your concerns with a helpline counsellor who can offer confidential advice.
You don't have to say who you are if you don't want to. But if we decide a child is at risk of harm or their needs aren't being met we will ask you for the child's details. Then we will make a referral to the appropriate agency, such as Children's Services, on your behalf.
Choosing the right babysitter for you
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
Choosing the right childcare depends on both the child and parent's needs.
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.
Local councils can give you details or information can be found at:
- gov.uk/find-registered-childminder or gov.uk/after-school-holiday-club (in England and Wales)
- nicma.org/cms/find-a-childminder or nidirect.gov.uk/extended-schools (in Northern Ireland)
- scottishfamilies.gov.uk or www.childminding.org (in Scotland)
If you have a child between two and four years old, you may be able to get free childcare from the government.
Find out more
Still not sure?
Our new tool can help answer your questions on whether your child is ready to be left home alone.
Staying safe away from home
It's time to demand change
The government doesn't know how many children have been abused and need support. Find out what we've been fighting for.
Make a donation today
This Christmas, a child will contact Childline every 25 seconds. Help us be there when they’re ready to break their silence.