No Babysitter – Are the Kids Old Enough?

This is not a definitive guide to leaving your children home alone or finding the right age for a teen babysitter. Each parent’s experience of leaving their children home without an adult will be different and precise laws do not exist. However if you’re wondering whether your children are old enough to be left alone so you can go out for the evening, read on. I have two children in secondary school so my plans and experiences might just help you think it through.

No babysitter - are the kids old enough? Think it through, can your children be safely left, how will they feel? On Falcondale Life blog. Child's bedroom.

Babysitter Law

If you try searching the Internet for the law on this, you will struggle to get a straight answer. According to the NSPCC if a child is “at risk” then you’re breaking the law. This police website indicates that if the person babysitting is under 16, then the parent is still responsible, even if absent. Apart from that if you search the web you will get a lot of Netmums gossip or American law which does not apply in the UK.

If your older children feel alright about being left alone in daytime, then nighttime is the next thing to consider. At what age do they no longer need a babysitter when you go out for the evening? What if one is old enough, but they need to care for a younger sibling?

They may be alright, but it’s not the same for them as for an adult. These are children caring for children, and it’s not just inexperience which can be a hurdle, but also immaturity. Inexperience is something that can change quickly, but all children need time to simply grow up and mature. It’s not easy – or kind – to rush that.

No babysitter - are the kids old enough? Think it through, can your children be safely left, how will they feel? On Falcondale Life blog. Child's bedroom.

Things to consider

• How many of them are there? Even if your eldest child is a big 15 year old, if s/he is looking after two or more smaller ones, how is s/he going to keep track?

• What is the age range? There are pros and cons here. One teenager caring for one much younger child is going to have a very different evening to one teenager caring for two arguing tweens. Or perhaps the tweens are fine and it’s a smaller tot who runs them ragged.

• How do they get on with each other when you are not there? This may be your ball and chain. If you know that your kids fight horribly, then you’re not going to be able to leave them as much as other parents with kids of the same age.

• How mature and responsible is your oldest child? How do you answer this question and how might other people answer this question? It’s time to think about how other people see your child.

Gradual Change

As they grow old enough to be left a little more, then take things in stages. There is no throwing a switch from “too young” to “old enough”. No two children are alike. There are lots of grey areas and stages of development. Here are the steps I tried.

1. Leave them alone after dark for an hour or two. It’s amazing how different they feel when it’s dark outside. They need to be alright with this.

2. Leave them until just after bedtime. Go for an early bird dinner or a drink and come back early so they have not been in bed long, or only the eldest is still up. This is because they won’t be as relaxed knowing there’s no adult babysitter in the house, and they may struggle to get to sleep. Creep in the bedroom and let them know you are back!

3. Go out like normal, let them deal with bedtime alone and you come back later. However do tell them when you will be back, and stick to it. They have a big capacity to worry. Text if you are going to be delayed. I know they will probably be asleep but there’s a good chance they will wake and check their phone if you are not back.

Tips

We found that after step 2, our children were terribly excited that they had been trusted to an evening alone and were quite happy for us to try it again the next week. But we found it was too soon! After the second time they said “can we not do that again for a while?”. It turned out to be just a little stressful. Even something successful takes a while to get used to.

Write down what you want them to do while you are out such as times for lights out and whether anyone needs to do a chore before bed. Make sure they know how to leave the house in an emergency and where the key is. Most children don’t even know what the smoke alarm sounds like – do yours? Teach safety – I don’t need to tell you how, but I liked these tips on safety and these tips on talking it through with your child. Write down your contact info – even if they have it. Promise to check your phone hourly. It seems obvious but when I feel comfortable with a situation, this is the sort of thing I forget to do.

Maybe try an arrangement where the eldest child is allowed to stay up while you are out, as they would do if they were being a babysitter in someone else’s house. The children may be happier knowing someone is awake.

Be prepared for things to go backwards. It’s possible that after months of being able to go out without a babysitter, your child may just get the jitters. Perhaps there is a cause or perhaps it’s just a stage they are going through. But you may have to arrange for them to sleep over somewhere or get in a visiting relatives at some point again in the future. It won’t be for always.

What has worked with your family? I’d love it if you would share your tips in the comments!

Cuddle Fairy

 

Capturing Moments

Mother of Teenagers

 

 

20 Comments

  1. 24th March 2017 / 6:42 am

    There is a big difference between leaving a young person at home and leaving them at home looking after younger siblings. The latter requires a whole extra level of responsibility #TweenTeensBeyond

  2. 17th March 2017 / 4:07 pm

    This is a super useful post and one that parents of tweens and teens will love to read. In the absence of a legal limit we are left to use our own judgement. I think your tips are spot on. We started by going out to a restaurant that was very close by. My husband knew that he could sprint home within 2 minutes if needed! I had not even thought of the smoke alarm – what an important point! Thanks so much for joining us at #TweensTeensBeyond, we really appreciate your support.

  3. 17th March 2017 / 2:52 pm

    Janet my son is 18 now and my daughter 13. With both of them I have left them in the house during the day from the age of 12 if popping out locally for an hour or two but not at night. My son has been babysitting for his sister at night since he was 16, however, the two big factors in my opinion to consider are safety and whether the oldest is comfortable with the responsibility as well as with locking up and going to sleep without adults in the house. We have experience of a house fire and this has always been my biggest paranoia. I would rather be safe than sorry and even when my eldest was 16 if we were going to be out particularly late I would get a sitter in just for the peace of mind of knowing someone was there looking out for them. Every situation and family is different of course. A useful post. Thanks so much for joining us and hope to see you again. #TweensTeensBeyond

  4. 17th March 2017 / 7:58 am

    I have ten children, ranging from age 25 down to 3 years old. Each child is different and was capable of staying home alone and/or watching a younger sibling at their own unique time. Some kids are trustworthy and responsible at age 12 while others not until age 15 or so. And it’s so true that it depends on who they are left alone with. In our house, because there are so many of them, if I’m going to be leaving the house for even 30 minutes, I will assign ONE older child to our 3 year old. I find if I just say, “Look after the baby while I’m at the store” to four or five of the older siblings, then that’s dangerous because everyone will just assume that another is watching him.

    #TweensTeensBeyond

    • 17th March 2017 / 1:59 pm

      That is such an excellent point. Thanks for this useful comment!

  5. 16th March 2017 / 10:22 pm

    Very informative and I totally agree with all your points. It really depends on your kids and how they get on and that is why age is less of a factor in some ways. We’re at the stage where we are thinking of leaving the older two alone for a few days and this feels like a real stage. They are 16 and 17. I won’t leave all the kids alone overnight though yet, even with the 17 year old in charge (the younger two are 13 and 15). The 15 year old always wants to know a time we’ll be back – probably so that she can pretend she’s been asleep for a while, when actually the tv has just gone off! Alison x #TweensTeensBeyond

    • 17th March 2017 / 1:57 pm

      I think it’s hard for them to settle and they do want to know when I’ll be back too. It’s like parent role-reversal!

  6. 16th March 2017 / 9:35 pm

    I sometimes leave my 10 year old on her own in the day for short whiles, but we’re obviously not at the age yet when leaving her at night would be an option, especially with 2 younger siblings. Some of the babysitters we’ve had though seem so young themselves, you wonder if they’d have a clue what to do if anything god forbid, happened to one of the kids. Food for thought #tweensteenbeyond

    • 17th March 2017 / 1:56 pm

      I’ve never had a babysitter under 17 but maybe it’s worth asking them what they would do in a crisis, good point.

  7. 16th March 2017 / 8:02 pm

    I left Hollie at age 11 for a few hours after school when I was working at a vets !! Hollie is super mature and has always looked about 2 years older,sometimes I have to question myself exactly how old she really is !!! She will be 15 this year, I’ve never left her alone in the house overnight yet and I probably won’t for another few years.
    Leaving her with Oscar, well only the other week she had her first baby sitting job for 2 hours. I put him to bed while my husband and I sat anxiously in the pub 5 seconds down the road ! ( handy location for a pub ). All our family’s are over 2 hours away so we really need to start including Hollie more in some childcare plans, plus it’s away of her making some pocket money. I think my biggest fear is that something would happen and she would feel guilty and I don’t want her put in that position.
    It soooooo hard but I know she can do it, Oscar loves her and to be honest behaves better for her than me ( typical) !!
    Thank you for a good reassuring post !!
    #TweenTeensBeyond

    • 17th March 2017 / 1:55 pm

      I’m glad you liked it. Actually I give my eldest a little extra pocket money for being in charge when I’m out but now that’s upsetting the younger one! More to work through …

  8. 16th March 2017 / 4:33 pm

    This is such a grey area isn’t it. It really does depend on the child. These days are still a way off for us as our daughter is just coming up to 11 so sitters are saved for premium nights out! I totally agree with making them mindful of how to act when something goes wrong. We are currently doing this with the going out alone in preparation for secondary school. We have friends with much older children that get dropped off by them when they go out! To this we can only aspire! Great post and I’m sure lots of people will find this really useful. Thanks for joining us at #TweensTeensBeyond. It’s great to have you here. Nicky

    • 17th March 2017 / 1:54 pm

      It certainly is a grey area. Often people want clear cut rules for this kind of thing and it’s important to understand that it’s not like that.

  9. 21st February 2017 / 7:27 pm

    It’s a good idea to leave the kids at home alone for a short time during the day before doing it at night. My oldest is 9 so we haven’t crossed this bridge yet. Great tips for when the time comes! Thanks so much for linking up with us at #BloggerClubUK

  10. 20th February 2017 / 2:53 pm

    This is a good post, I think a huge thing to consider is if the elder child wants to stay to babysit. There is a big age gaps between me and my sisters, I was always left to babysit, not very often through choice!

  11. 19th February 2017 / 10:14 pm

    This is super useful. I have a few years left before I have to think about this but good to know.

  12. 19th February 2017 / 9:04 pm

    Really useful post. We won’t have this for years, but our nearly 15yo nephew has just started being left. He’s a bit scared of the dark, they live in the middle of nowhere, so he’s had a friend over the first time, and the dog is allowed in the house with him). His Gran/Gramps are only 2 miles away, as are his other aunt/uncle, but usually his parents get a text about 30 mins after leaving the house. So far, the 8yo brother has continued to go for sleepovers at the farm, because they do wind each other up.

  13. 19th February 2017 / 4:27 pm

    What a helpful post! I don’t think we’d ever leave Erin with anyone but older family members

  14. 18th February 2017 / 8:32 am

    Gosh, my little one is only 1.5yrs so iv still got time to get to grips with this. It does make it seem easier reading this.

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