Leaving children home alone

 

Girl lying on bed with dogLeaving children home alone is a contentious topic on the Mumsnet Talk Boards, and the age at which a child is mature and responsible enough to be left at home without a grown-up present will differ from one to the next. But for the vast majority, that point will come during their pre-teen years. 

What to consider

If you're thinking of leaving your child home alone, here are some questions to run through before you make up your mind: 

  • How mature or responsible is your child?
  • Is he comfortable being left at home alone?
  • Are there other children or responsibilities for him to manage?
  • How well does he know the neighbours?
  • How far away will you be, and for how long?


And if you do decide to leave your child home alone, remember to:

  • Leave contact numbers
  • Make sure you can answer your phone right away
  • Leave the number of someone else your child can trust, in case they can't get hold of you
  • Tell your child not to answer the door if anyone rings or knocks
  • Leave clear instructions about what to do in case of an emergency, such as a fire
  • Set clear rules about what they can and can't do while you're out
  • Tell them when you'll be back and stick to the time


Reasons for leaving your children at home alone

If you're trying to decide whether or not to leave your children at home without you, the only question is whether or not the children are old enough to be left alone (ie not that it's a really important appointment and you'd prefer not to have the children with you).

Your legal responsibilities

There's no legal age limit for leaving a child on his or her own, but it is an offence if it places a child at risk - parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised 'in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health' (Children and Young Person's Act).

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) advises that children under the age of about 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time.

Just as with other parenting dilemmas, trust your instinct: if you've got a nagging worry or doubt, don't ignore it.

On the other hand, you need to think about whether you're being over-protective or over-concerned. Trust your child's instincts, too: if he or she wants to be left, it's probably time to do it. Remember, you can leave them for a very short time at first – just pop in to see a neighbour for a few minutes.

It's often a good idea to ease into leaving your children at home alone for the first time, without any additional pressures such as meetings or deadlines adding extra stress to the situation.

It's also a good idea to be close by, within walking distance (so no risk of traffic hold-ups) so it's easy to get home straight away if necessary. 

What Mumsnetters say about leaving pre-teens home alone

  • Everything depends on the maturity of the child – my older son is very sensible, but younger son may still have to hold someone's hand to cross the road when he's 15! There are so many variables, and as soon as you legislate and set a particular age you find there are those for whom the age is too high and others for whom it is too low and they'll be in danger. Parental discretion is the only sensible way to do it. procrastinatingparent
  • I started leaving mine for very brief periods when they were eight. They knew how to use the phone to call me, not to answer the door and which neighbours to go to if need be. We've got to start somewhere, or we'll all be delivering our children to university every morning! BleughCowWonders

 

Image: Shutterstock

Last updated: 11-Apr-2013 at 2:52 PM