Leaving your kids with a regular babysitter for just a few hours at a time can be nerve-wracking enough. Having a babysitter stay overnight is a whole different level of responsibility.
How old should an overnight babysitter be? Most people would agree that a babysitter should be at least 16 to watch your children overnight. Younger babysitters may seem capable, but being alone in a strange dark house is too overwhelming for most, and they might not even realize it themselves. There are other things to consider, such as the babysitter's level of maturity, as well.
Learn how old a babysitter should be, when it's okay to leave kids home alone overnight, how to prepare teens for a night alone, and more.
What Age Should A Babysitter Be? (In General)
In the UK, Australia, and Canada, there is no minimum age that's legally required before you can babysit. There is quite a bit of leeway left to the authorities to prosecute, however, if something goes wrong with a young child who is either babysitting or left at home alone (source).
Most states in the US (more than 60% of them) are the same in that they specify no legal minimum age. Some US states have a suggested minimum age, whereas others have a legally defined minimum age, which can range from 10 to 14 years.
Many youth begin babysitting around age 12 and continue during their teens and even into their college years. I would say 12 is a good general age when most are responsible enough to begin babysitting.
What Age Should An Overnight Babysitter Be?
I think that many parents would agree that 16 years or older is when most teenagers are ready to handle the responsibility of babysitting overnight.
I'd say that a 13- or 14-year-old would likely not be capable of babysitting overnight. They're more likely to get spooked and think that every little noise might be someone trying to break into the house, especially when they are alone in a strange house in the dark.
Other Factors To Consider Besides Age
Maturity. This is perhaps an even more important factor than age. I've seen 13-year-olds who conduct themselves like 18-year-olds... and vice versa! Just by interacting with your babysitter for a few minutes, you can probably get a reasonable estimation of their maturity level.
Safety. Has your babysitter taken a Red Cross certified babysitting course or a similar nationally-recognized course? If not, they might not be fully aware of everything that the job will require. Does your babysitter know CPR and first aid? They should have enough knowledge to respond appropriately if your child gets cut, chokes, or becomes ill.
Age of your children. There is a huge difference between babysitting a newborn compared to an 8-year-old. Infants should really only be left alone with teenagers or older, and generally, the younger your child is, the more care they'll need.
Special needs. If your child has behavioral issues or special needs, you will likely need a special kind of babysitter. One that is familiar with the child's needs will be better able to help them. And they will, at the very least, require a babysitter with an above-average level of patience and maturity.
See our handy guide: How to find a babysitter for a child with autism for more complete information on what to do.
Where you live. Do you live in a big city neighborhood or a quiet subdivision? Do you live close to others or isolated in a rural area? What is the crime rate like in your area? Do you have neighbors, friends, or family members nearby who could quickly help in case of an emergency? Do you have an alarm system?
Have they babysat your kids before? Letting a brand new babysitter watch your kids overnight is a big step to take. It's better to use your regular babysitter that the children are familiar with or to have the new babysitter watch the children for just a few hours at first.
Can your babysitter drive? If something happens to your child that requires a trip to the emergency room but isn't bad enough to warrant an ambulance (like needing stitches or waking up in the middle of the night with abdominal pain), does your babysitter have a driver's license and a car to take them and do they drive well enough to do so safely?
When in doubt, and your babysitter is young, ask their parents if possible. They have a much better idea of their teenager’s maturity level and other attributes or frailties.
See our complete list of babysitter qualities that you should be looking for when hiring a sitter for day or night.
A Babysitter Can Be Too Old Too!
When we ask how old a babysitter should be, it's automatically assumed we are talking about a minimum age. But consider that there might be a maximum age that a babysitter is effective as well.
If your children are extremely active, they'll need someone who can keep up with them, keep them engaged, and stop them from getting into mischief. Having a grandparent or another senior watch your children might not be practical if your kids are always bouncing off the walls.
An elderly person might also not be able to do more physically demanding tasks that are required from an overnight babysitter. For example, bending over or kneeling to wash your child in the bathtub or tasks that require fine motor skills like getting them dressed might be just a little too much for a senior.
Rules To Set For Your Overnight Babysitter
If you have a regular babysitter who comes over for a few hours at a time, they probably already know most of your house rules. But there are some procedures that change at night time.
What do they do if the doorbell rings? After dark, it's advisable just not to have them answer the door. They should not be expecting anyone, and it would be a good idea to avoid deliveries of things like takeout.
What do they do if the phone rings? Again, after a certain time of night, it might be better to tell them not to answer. It could give away information to callers, such as the fact that there's no adult in the house.
Can they have friends over? Babysitters should not be allowed to have their friends over at any time while they are babysitting. If they do, you can be pretty sure their attention is not on your child. It’s important to make it clear that this is a deal-breaker in advance and not wait until it happens.
What kind of snacks can the kids eat? You might want to set additional restrictions after a specific time or a certain number of hours before bed, especially for things like sugar or caffeine. And you know how the kids often use hunger or thirst as a way to defer getting to bed, or even after they are in bed. There should be a discussion on how to handle that, as well.
How much TV can they watch? And what programs are they allowed to watch? There may be some things on television later in the evening that you don't consider appropriate for your kids.
When is bedtime? And what is your typical bedtime routine for the kids? Keeping the normal routines helps your household function smoothly, so make sure you communicate your requirements clearly to your babysitter.
Read our complete guide: How to interview a babysitter to learn how to find the perfect sitter to match your requirements.
What is the minimum age that children can be left alone without a babysitter?
Much like the age for babysitters, there is no one specific age that children can be left alone, and this can vary a lot even within different regions of countries.
In Queensland, Australia, it's a misdemeanor to leave a child under 12 years old alone for an "unreasonable time." But the law doesn't specify how long an unreasonable time is. In other areas of Australia, the law simply states you're legally required to make sure that your child is properly looked after, which is also quite vague.
In Canada, the UK, and much of the US, the law contains a lot of similar recommendations and "should"-type language as opposed to strict guidelines (source).
For more details about leaving your kids home alone, see our article What Age Do You Stop Needing A Babysitter?
At what age are kids ready to walk to school alone?
This will vary by a number of factors, such as maturity, how far it is, and where you live as well. But the consensus seems to be that age 5 or 6 is too young. Around 7 years of age, most children could walk to school as long as they're in a group. By around age 10, most kids are ready to start walking to school by themselves.
At what age can children ride public transit alone?
In many places, the minimum age for an unaccompanied minor to ride short distances in town is 8 years old. Drivers can refuse service to children who look younger than this age, and some bus companies have rules about unaccompanied minors that can usually be found on their websites (source).
Even if 8-year-olds can technically take the bus, it might be better to wait until they're older (12 or 13) before allowing them to take public transportation alone. Otherwise, it can be easy to get on the wrong bus and become lost and overwhelmed. If your young child is traveling alone, it's best to give them an emergency phone to carry just in case.
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