Children Home Alone – Motivational Monday

At what age is it okay to leave a child alone in the house?

There is actually (quiet surprisingly) no law about not leaving your child home alone (regardless of age), but it IS an offence if in doing so you put them at risk (source)  – Child and Young Person’s Act 1968.

Punishment can range from a fine to 10 years imprisonment.

What do we consider “leaving them” home alone. Do we count things such as hanging out the washing, putting out the bin? Is this comparable with having a bath or shower when they are asleep?

Or leaving them alone in the bath? Any different leaving them in the car – say to pay for petrol?

Does it make a difference as to why they are home alone? They are ill; asleep; you have to work cannot afford or think childcare is unnecessary; latchkey kids; want a social life and there is no childcare available; child/ren don’t want to come with you; the child/ren want to be given some responsibility; it’s late and you need to go to the shop.

If they are ill do you worry that their condition may worsen whilst you are away? Or what if they suddenly become ill?

Is it just lazy parenting not making our children come with us, or ensuring they have “proper” childcare? Too much responsibility for children? Risky? Or morally wrong? Is it any more dangerous than allowing a teenager to go abroad with friends?

What happens if something happens to you? (for example a road accident)?

Does it matter if someone else knows that your child is alone? And how far away that person is? If they have a key? If it is a relative down the road? A neighbour?

What kind of area you live in?

Or that your child has someone to go to?

Have mobile phones made a difference, as we can now ring home and they can ring us (help)?

Or do you tell your children not to let people know they are alone so that they do not draw attention to themselves, possibly making themselves more vulnerable?

What it is that concerns you about whether it is okay to leave your child? Do we consider examples such as Madeline McCann?

Is it better they are safe in the warm (house) than playing out or walking to school alone, at risk of strangers and road traffic?

Is playing outside dangerous – and we think about the likes of Sarah Payne? or April Jones? Or are they safer playing out as there is more likely to be an adult around who can take responsibility for them if something does go wrong? What about the weather – sunny or snowing?

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Do we need to relax and stop worrying about everything? That these are very rare occurrences. That, at the right age and in the right way, it encourages independence?

Does it matter where you are going? Quickly popping to the corner shop; school run with other children; big food shop; night out (socialising);work; a day out; a holiday; because they don’t want to go. How far away we are? Can we get back to them in time if they need help?

Does the length of time make a difference? A few minutes, An hour, Coming home from school alone until you get home, a few hours, all day, over night?

The time of day/night? Whether they are awake or asleep? Whether it spans across a time when they will need feeding? Will dinner be cooking? Or will they have to feed themselves? Will this involve cookers, sharp knives etc? Will they know what to do if something goes wrong – like a fire. Will their be appliances on – washing machine/dishwasher – that may leak.

How regularly are we leaving them? Is it a one off? Weekly? Daily?

If they are locked in the house? With or without a key. Do they know how to get out? (such as in the event of a fire). How about the door just being unlocked? Will they answer the door to others? If not, what if someone is trying to alert them to an emergency, putting them in danger?

The individual child. Are some children more “mature” than others. Or is age a pretty good defining factor? Do you trust them to behave? Will they invite friends in? And will they behave? Do they show signs of responsibility with other things such as following instructions, household chores and homework? Are they calm when things do not go as planned? Can they handle unexpected situations? Are they safe? Are they a risk taker? Good stranger danger? Do they know any basic first aid?

Does it make a difference if they have been left before? Should they be left with increasing amounts of time (building up their confidence and knowledge).

What about leaving them in charge of other children? And does their age matter? Babies? Toddlers? Preteens? How about how they get on? How many children there are? And the ages of those children as well as the oldest child (in charge). The personalities of those children – will they do as the oldest one says?

Do you set ground rules? Who to have over, what to eat, what they are allowed to do (computer games), whether they need to do any chores? Answering the phone or door?

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Whilst there is no age-related laws about leaving children alone there are guidelines.

NSPCC Safety Guidelines

  • A baby or young child should NEVER be left alone for ANY amount of time.
  • Children under 12 may not be mature enough to be alone. That those 8-11 years should only be left alone for short periods.
  • Carers/Babysitters should be over the age of 16. If anything goes wrong and they are under 16 then you will still be held accountable.
  • Under 16s should not be left alone overnight.

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Whilst in America the Guidelines are different:

  • Under 7s must not be left home alone at all for any amount of time. Depending on how likely they would be able to intervene if the child became in danger in its environment also extends to the back garden, car, and playground.
  • During daylight hours and early evening, children aged 8-10 years may be left up to 90 minutes.
  • Those 11 to 12 years can be left up to 3 hours, as long as it is not late at night and in appropriate circumstances.
  • 13 to 15 years – can stay home alone but not overnight.
  • 16 to 17 years – can be left overnight – in some circumstances for up to 2 consecutive nights.

(source)

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16 thoughts on “Children Home Alone – Motivational Monday”

  1. Well, thought provoking. I have experience of parents in differing circumstances leaving children ‘home alone’ A clear law I feel would be helpful, as guidance is open to interpretation.

    Reply
  2. Joy you ask some sensible questions here and I think the law is right not to dictate, it is something that varies by family and by child and circunstance.

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  3. What a fantastic post, it shows just how much there is to consider with this issue. I’m going to link my ‘home alone’ post. I have recently started leaving my eldest home alone for short times. I will leave his younger brother with him for even shorter times. They both fall into the 8-11 bracket. I wouldn’t leave my younger children home alone without my eldest there and I wouldn’t leave all three of my children even for 10 minutes – risk of fighting too high!

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  4. This is a very interesting post and until recently, I didn’t realise that there was no law against leaving children ‘home alone’ and that it’s actually up to the parent to make the decision. Now that my eldest two are 12 and 11, I have started leaving them at home to run short errands – say to the shop or to pick up their younger brother from football. I wouldn’t leave the 11 year old at home in charge of the 8 year old for example as she is not as responsible as the 12 year (different personality). I had never considered keys for windows etc. Very thought provoking.

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  5. Ive been leaving my son whos 12 next month on his own since he was about
    9.To start with it was while i popped over the rd to shop or round the
    corner to my mums for a cuppa and gradually built it up to longer
    periods now i mite go out for the afternoon for a few hrs.I always make
    sure i have my phone on me so he can contact me and tell him where i am
    going im very lucky to have two very good friends that also live in the
    same street and my mothers to 2mins walk away so i feel there is aways
    somebody around if he needed somebody straight away.Hes a very sensible
    boy and i trust him to not do anything stupid it makes life easier for
    me so i dont have to drag him round places he doesnt want to go and hes
    happier at home playing on his games in his room.I also have a 4yr old
    daughter 5 next month and he has now started to watch her for me while we do the weekly shop
    which takes about 1 hour again i believe he is sensible enough to
    entrust him with this responsibility, i prefer he do this for me say
    than take his sister to the park for an hour where there are other
    people around and the worry of what others may do or more chance i feel
    of accidents happening crossing rd and such to me this seems alot more
    responsibility for him than watching his sister in our home and dont
    think this would be fair on him

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  6. First off I have no children but have had children with their mother staying with me at times over the years. I personally do not think it is safe (or ever has been) to leave a child alone under the age of 6 ay ANY time-no matter how mature you think they are. Personally until that child is in high school I would not leave them alone in the house unless a responsible adult is aware of it-(if you have to work)-and NEVER at home alone in the evening or overnight–If there is an emergency a friend may allow them an overnight or get an adult to stay with them. Teenagers tend to get in trouble without always meaning to!!

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  7. very thought provoking. In Canada a child does not need daycare after they are 10 years old. I started to babysit when I was 14 however I was very mature and had the experience of being the first born. I had a sister who was 10 years younger. When I went out my children had a babysitter, more for my son than the girls. The young man got my children in computers and played games with them.

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  8. Great questions every parent should stop and think about. I think it depends on the childs maturity. I never left my children alone until they were older than 10. I always had someone nearby in case of emergency. Did not really know about whether there were laws. Thank for the post!

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  9. I agree with the above comments that it depends on the child and his or her level of maturity, as well as how much you can trust the child to follow instructions. I don’t know when we will let our kiddos stay home alone yet, but it will probably not be until they are at least 10, maybe older.

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  10. It truly depends on the child. I know a couple kids that are 7 and 10 and they are the most responsible grown-up kids that I’ve even met and I would leave them home alone with no worries. I also know kids that would get into way to much! Every child is different. I would really look at your kids and think about their personality and since of responsible-readiness. My daughters are 5 and 6, soon to be 6 and 7. I’m not sure if I would leave them alone for very long, maybe to run to the neighbors for a minute but my youngest is VERY responsible.

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  11. Your post gives serious food for thought. There has been a lot of talk in Jamaica about this with parents being charged after their children died in a fire. As I write this the first item in the news is about the death of a 10 and 7 year old in a fire last night. In many instances a parent went to a nearby shop when this happened. In many instances the children are in a home with only a mother. Thanks for hosting Thirsty For Comments and have a Happy Easter.

    Reply
  12. These are all great questions. I had to leave mine home alone whilst I whizzed up to the School Food Plan event in London…. It is such a difficult issue. It was all fine when I came back, but would I do it again?

    Reply

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