Learn about the pros, cons, and costs of both daycare programs and hiring a nanny, plus we investigate some alternatives to consider.
As a parent, I know it can be hard to decide when your little baby is finally ready to stay home without a sitter. What happens if something goes wrong? And how do you know that it's not too early?
What age do children stop needing a babysitter? Some kids are ready to stay home alone without a babysitter as early as 11. Other kids might need to wait until they're teenagers. There are signs of maturity that you can look for to suggest that your child might be ready to go it alone.
Learn what age kids stop needing a babysitter, how you know they're ready to be left alone, information and tools to leave them with, and more.
What Age Do Kids Stop Needing Their Babysitter?
As a nervous first-time parent, your answer to this question might be when they're 18 and move off to university! But both you and your child know that isn't really realistic.
Unfortunately, there's no magic age where all children instantly become responsible and mature.
Some kids are willing and able to be left alone at age 10 or 11. Others might be teenagers before either they or you feel comfortable leaving them unsupervised for long periods of time.
What Does The Law Say?
The laws regarding leaving your child alone can vary a lot depending on where you live. Some places only give suggested ages, while some have firm limits in place. There are also differences in how long you can leave your child alone during the day or night.
Rather than list the specifics for each country and state here, I'd recommend doing a quick Google search yourself to confirm by searching something like "leave child alone age legal (your country or state/province)"
What Do Experts Say?
Most child experts think it's okay to start leaving your kid alone for short periods of time around 10 or 11, starting with less than an hour at a time and only during the day.
12 or 13 might be okay ages to start leaving your child alone at night if they've had previous experience being home alone during the daytime. You shouldn't leave them alone overnight at that age, but they should be fine if you need to go to a movie for a few hours.
Of course, there's the caveat that you should think they're mature enough to handle it and won't be scared.
Signs of Maturity That Show Your Child Is Ready To Stay Home Alone
Before you consider leaving your child home unattended, you should make sure they:
- Can follow rules.
- Can make good decisions.
- Are responsible.
- Are mature.
- Can handle power and authority without abusing it.
- Can handle any potential problems or emergencies calmly.
- Have first aid or CPR training (optional – but good especially if they're looking after a younger sibling.)
Things Your Kids Need To Know
In addition to your child being mentally ready to be left home alone, there's some critical knowledge that you'll need to share with them.
They should know emergency numbers. Your child should know 911, 999, 000, or whatever your country's emergency number is to contact fire, ambulance, and police (See emergency numbers for your country). They also need to know when it's appropriate to call and when it isn't, and what information like your home address they'll need to share with the dispatcher if they ever call.
They should know how to get help if they need it. They should have a way to reach your family, friends, or a neighbor they can trust if they run into any problems they're unable to solve themselves, like if your basement starts flooding.
They can prepare food for themselves if they get hungry. Whether that's just getting simple snacks or preparing basic meals like sandwiches or reheating leftovers in the microwave. (They also need to be responsible enough to not eat an entire block of cheese, or container of whipped cream while you're out!)
They need to know how to clean up a mess. Accidents happen, but it's important that your child can deal with it on their own. As opposed to just letting orange soda soak into your carpet for three hours until you get home.
They need to know how to follow the rules. They need to follow the same rules that would be expected of them when a parent is around. For example, no friends over without permission, no wrestling, limits on TV or video games, etc.
They need emergency plans. For example, what will they do in case of a power outage, fire, or severe weather? Be sure to have flashlights and fire extinguishers around your house in easy-to-find places. As well as a first aid kit stocked with bandaids, disinfectant, and other medical supplies.
Information To Leave For Your Child When They're Home Alone
You should have a basic list with all of your emergency numbers in one place that's easy for your kid to find and access, for example, stuck on the refrigerator.
Include emergency phone numbers like:
- Your cell phone.
- Nearby family members.
- Neighbors you trust.
- Your family doctor.
- Your local fire and police departments.
- Poison control (see below).
- Your national emergency number (see below).
|Country||Poison help number|
|Australia||1800 875 204|
|New Zealand||0800 764 766|
Don't forget to give them a way to phone as well. Nowadays more and more homes don't have a landline. If that's true of your home, you'll need to leave them a cheap prepaid emergency phone they can use.
Help Your Kid Stay Out of Trouble
There are basic precautions you should take to prevent your kid from making bad decisions and giving in to curiosity or temptation.
Set up parental filters on your computer and TV to make sure they can't access any material that you deem inappropriate for them.
Hide anything you don't want them to get ahold of as well. Things like alcohol, prescription medications, cigarettes, weapons, and lighters.
What If You Have Multiple Kids?
What happens if you've got two children, for example, a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old.
Your 12-year-old is mature enough to leave home alone. But you'd never leave your 8-year-old by themselves.
Will they be okay together? In most cases yes. Again this will come down to maturity in the older child. They'll need to act as a babysitter to keep the younger child under control.
Some younger siblings are really good at taking orders from their big brother or sister. While other pairs of children feed off each other and can quickly get out of control or become antagonistic toward each other. If your kids are the latter, you might want to wait an extra year or two before leaving them alone together.
You're setting your child up for failure if you go from a lifetime of full supervision to leaving them alone for an entire day.
Start with trial runs where you only leave your child alone for 30 minutes or an hour while you run to get groceries. If the house is still standing after your first few test runs, you can start gradually increasing the time you're away.
Your child should understand that being able to stay home alone is a privilege. They need to earn that privilege by showing they can be safe and reliable.
Day vs. Night
There's a big psychological difference for your child when it comes to being home alone at night compared to during the day. They might be perfectly fine to take care of themselves during the day.
But at night, the darkness can be overwhelming even for a tween. Every noise can trigger a fear response and set their imagination ablaze with ideas of monsters in the basement.
For that reason, it's a good idea to make sure your child is already completely comfortable being alone during the day before you leave them alone at night.
To make sure they're ready, you can start off with short trial runs again where you only leave for an hour or less at a time. You can also phone periodically to make sure everything is going okay.
Are there legal consequences if I leave my child home alone too young?
If your child is in that borderline age like 10 or 11 it's unlikely you'll have a problem. But leaving younger children (like 4 or 5) home alone can be considered neglect and child abandonment. In that case, Child Protective Services would likely get involved.
Can I leave my baby unattended?
Infants should only be left alone for very short periods of time (a few minutes) and in safe conditions. Your baby will be fine if they're safely tucked in their crib for a few moments while you take a shower or tidy up quickly. But your baby should never be left home alone, even if you're just quickly running to the shop down the road or doing some gardening outside.
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