What’s the ‘right’ age to let your child stay home alone?

In the UK, there's no law stating what age a child should be before they can stay home alone - so we asked 1,427 parents when they thought they'd let their kids do it, plus got expert advice from an Educational Psychologist...

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In a nutshell: Over 12 is the age most people would let their child stay home alone for approximately 1 hour (we polled 1,427 parents).

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Here in the UK, there’s no legal age limit on leaving a child at home on their own. The law only stipulates that it’s an offence to leave your child alone if it places them at risk.

The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) advises:

  • children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left for long periods of time on their own
  • children under 16 shouldn’t be left overnight on their own.

In an area where there’s so little guidance, we reckon this is quite a tricky one for parents to think about. There are, of course, so many variables, like:

  • how mature your child is
  • how long you’re leaving them for
  • how far away you’ll be.

A while ago, chat show This Morning had a mum on who admitted to leaving her 5-year-old child at home while she walked the dog – opening up a wealth of controversy.

And in a slightly different scenario, but still around leaving your child alone, MP Michael Gove came under fire for leaving his 11-year-old child in a B&B room alone for 6 hours while he went out to a party after a literary festival.

What do parents say?

We asked 1,427 at what age they’d let their child stay home alone for approximately one hour.  The most popular answers were:

  • over 12 (42%)
  • 12  (16%)
  • 10 (13%)


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When we asked for further comments on this topic, a number of parents mentioned that a lot would depend on how mature their child is – and not all would have the same rule for all their kids.

One respondent said: “This depends on the maturity of the child. One of my daughters is OK from 11, but I doubt the other would be OK until she’s much older.”

One parent of 2 kids, the oldest being 9, wasn’t sure what they’d do, but said this: “Our next door neighbours routinely leave their 8 year old in charge of their 4 year old and go out… that’s not any of our business, although we do listen just in case.

“We have no intention of leaving our little guys for a while yet. Again, I think it’ll depend on the situation and how we feel at the time. Children change so quickly, I couldn’t begin to answer this at the minute.”

What do the experts say?

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) points out that inadequate supervision is a major cause of children’s accidents in the home.

They also advise that until a child is 8 years old, most still need supervision, guidance and support do to things. 

From an emotional/developmental point of view, Educational Psychologist Naomi Burgess told us:

“Getting your child or children ready to be alone, without a supervising adult, in a variety of situations, is a great preparation for life, even before you think about the real event!

“Those skills and abilities which enable us to manage independently are so important to learn, and developing our sense of confidence and self-reliance comes later for some than others, but all children need to begin learning to look after themselves and caring for others, in a supportive way. 

“You already know the important questions about being alone in the home: following rules to keep safe about opening the door, answering the phone, what to do in an emergency.

And, then there are the ‘housekeeping issues’, such as skills to make a snack, and how to be safely occupied.

“So, working towards that goal is great, good fun and can produce benefits for you and your child.”

Naomi suggests that before your child is ready to actually be home alone, you can plan to set up games and simulations – perhaps allocating some small jobs or tasks for them while you are somewhere else in the home, or perhaps let them read or play without supervision or even make a sandwich.

And on the topic of older siblings looking after younger ones, she says: “Don’t forget if there is an older one looking after a younger one that another skill-set needs to be taught too.

“Anything that develops self-sufficiency like this is a great confidence builder and will always stand them in good stead.”

What do you think?

How old would your child have to be before you’d let them stay home alone? Tell us in the comments below or over on Facebook

Image: Getty Images

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