It may surprise you to hear but the UK has no minimum legal age that a children can be left alone. As parents, you are the best placed to make a judgement on your own child’s maturity and ability to adapt and deal with tricky situations.
It goes without saying that babies, toddlers and very young children should not be left to fend for themselves – but deciding when it is right for your older child to be left in the home alone, or given a key to the family home, is a decision that should not be taken lightly.
Firstly, children under 12 are rarely mature enough to deal with an unusual situation, such as a power cut or emergency, so should not be left unattended for long periods of time, if at all.
Talk to your child about how they feel.
You may feel that the time is right for your child to be left alone, or it may be an unavoidable situation, such as a change in your working hours that means you child needs to be at home alone for part of the day, but if your child does not feel ready to be left, you shouldn’t force the issue.
Talk to your child and ensure they are comfortable with the prospect of staying in the house unattended, the chances are they will be pushing you out of the door long before you are ready to leave, but it is vital to make sure they feel happy with the situation.
What to consider and plan before leaving your child for the first time.
Take the time to discuss what your child should do in certain situations, such as a power cut or visitor to the house. Make sure;
- All numbers your child could need in an emergency are placed in a clear location
- Ensure they know how to safely lock and unlock the door.
- Make sure parental controls are set on the TV and computers.
- If you will be out for a long time, set a time to call and check all is ok.
- Make sure your child knows how to stay safe and understands basic First Aid.
- Make sure your child knows not to broadcast the fact they are alone, particularly on social media.
- Set boundaries for what is out of bounds, such as the oven.
- Stock the house with easy to prepare meals and snacks.
- If they are coming home alone, get a couple of spare keys cut by your local locksmith and leave one with a trusted neighbour, in case your child misplaces theirs.
Practise with a test run
Whilst you cannot ever 100% guarantee your child’s safety, particularly when you are away from them, a test run is a good way of checking you are both happy with the situation. Plan and leave your child for just 30 minutes to an hour the first time. If any problems arise, it is a good opportunity to discuss what went well, and what didn’t.
How will I know if we are ready?
Ultimately only you, as their parent, will know when the time is right to allow your child to stay alone. Use your judgement and trust your instincts before making the decision. If controlled and as safe as possible, it can prove to be a good experience for both yourself and your child, to show that you trust them to be responsible while you are not there.