What the law says
There is no legal minimum age for a child to be left at home on their own. But it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk of harm and you could be prosecuted for doing so. Babies and young children should not be left home alone, because they are not able to look after themselves.
There is also no legal minimum age for when a young person can look after other children. But the law does state that children under the age of 16 remain the responsibility of their parents, even when being looked after by another young person. You might want to learn more about this from our Babysitters information page.
Deciding when your child is ready to be left home alone
As your child gets older, you might want to leave them home alone for short periods of time or they might want to be left. There isn't a recommended set age, as all children are different to one another and their readiness to be left home alone depends on their maturity and personality, not their age.
The NSPCC gives guidelines about appropriate ages for being left home alone. They say most children under 12 can't cope with an emergency, so shouldn't be left alone for long and no child under 16 should be left alone overnight.
The most important thing is making sure both you and your child feel comfortable. If you're unsure, you could take the NSPCC questionnaire 'Is my child ready to be left home alone?'
Things to think about before leaving your child alone
- Are there any possible dangers in your home and do they understand the risks of household objects, such as knives and matches?
- Do they know basic first aid?
- Do they know how and when to contact the emergency services?
- Do they understand the safety rules, such as not answering the front door while you're out and not using the oven?
What to do on the day
- Make sure your child knows your phone number.
- Tell them how long you will be gone for, and where you are going.
- Give them the contact details of a trusted person they could call if you don't answer your phone, such as a grandparent.
- Set basic rules about what your child can and can't do when you're out.
- Leave them clear instructions about what to do in an emergency.
- Contact your child every so often while you're out, or arrange for a relative or friend to do so instead.
For the first time you leave your child home alone, make sure it is for a very short length of time and see how you both feel about it afterwards.
Looking after younger siblings or friends
All siblings argue and even the most mature child can struggle to be sensible when being teased by their sibling. Because of this, children may be ready to be left home alone long before they are ready for the extra responsibility of looking after their brother or sister.
So before asking your child to look after their siblings, consider:
- Will they be able to comfort a sibling who is scared or upset?
- Are they able to prepare appropriate snacks and do first aid if necessary?
- Will the younger children respect the fact that their older brother or sister is temporarily in charge?
- Are they likely to play tricks on each other or fall out with each other while you're gone?
If you think all your children will be comfortable and able to cope, try leaving them home alone for a short period of time on the first occasion and see how it goes.