Is my child ready to go out without an adult or stay home alone? 

As your child gets older, it’s likely they’ll start wanting to have more independence. They might want to go out to the park or the shops with their friends or walk to school alone. You might be wondering if it’s ok to leave them home alone for a short time while you go out. 

There is no legal age to leave your child unsupervised, but it is illegal to leave your child if it puts them at risk. Whether it is safe to leave your child will depend on the situation, their age and development stage. It’s never ok to leave babies or young children alone even for a short time. 

My child wants to be more independent

Most children reach a stage where they start asking to do things without adult supervision, this is an important part of their development. Taking small, manageable steps will help them to become self-sufficient adults.  

Some things your child may start wanting to do are: 

  • Walking to and from school by themselves or with friends. 
  • Going to the local park or shops on their own. 
  • Staying home alone while the rest of the family are out. 
  • No longer wanting a babysitter and wanting to watch younger siblings when you go out. 

When is it safe to leave a child without an adult?

There is no set age at which it is safe to leave a child alone as each child is unique and each situation is different. Instead, it’s better to look at the situation and decide if you feel it’s safe for your child.  Some things to consider are: 

  • Your child’s age. 
  • Their development stage and capability. 
  • Their ability to keep themself safe and know what to do in an emergency. 
  • How ‘street smart’ they are and their ability to sense danger or risks. 
  • Your child’s confidence. Do they feel safe about being left alone or would they feel worried? 
  • The time of day and how long they would be alone. For example the NSPCC advises that children under 16 should not be left alone overnight and that children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time. 
  • If they would be caring for other siblings or babysitting and if so, what the caring responsibility involves. 

Staying home alone

Staying home alone is a big step for a child and their parent, so it’s good to make sure you are both prepared and feel safe to take that step. 

  • Build up to staying home alone to build their confidence as well as your own.  You may start with just 5 or 10 mins before gradually building up to more time as they get older and develop more independence skills. 
  • Set clear expectations so they know what they can expect from you and what you expect from them.  Let your child know when you’ll back or set an alarm and make sure you stick to this.  It’s also good to give them a plan of what to do if you aren’t home at the agreed time. 
  • Agree rules around what activities are safe to do while home alone.  This might include no cooking, no baths or showers or not opening the door to minimise the risk of harm. You might also agree to check in at certain times. 
  • Create a safety plan – have emergency numbers written down, talk about other safe adults they can call, make sure they have escape routes from the house (so don’t lock them in). 
  • Teach them what to do in different situations – Would they know what to do if there was an emergency?  Do they know how to contact emergency services? 

Going out alone

Before allowing your child to go out without an adult, start teaching and modeling independence skills so they can gradually become more confident. That way, you will know they have the skills to deal with tricky situations.  As they develop their independence, they will want to push boundaries so it’s important to support this development whilst setting some ground rules. 

  • If they want to do something you don’t feel they are ready for, don’t shut the idea down.  Instead explain what skills you would want them to have first and then make a plan together to help them learn those skills. 
  • Use the word ‘yet’ while they are learning, to communicate to your child that you know they will be ready in the future but maybe not quite yet. 
  • Build up to bigger challenges by breaking it into steps – if they want to walk home alone could they walk the first section and then have you pick them up? Work on it together but let them take the lead. 
  • Ensure they have the right safety skills such as road safety and that they stick to familiar routes or agreed areas. 
  • Set clear expectations of when they need to be home and where they will be when they are out. 
  • Create a safety plan – have emergency numbers and your contact details written down, make sure they have enough money on them to get home if needed. 
  • Explain about safe places to ask for help such as at a pharmacy, security guards, banks, libraries.  If they are lost encourage them to go somewhere public with cameras.  
  • Help them problem solve common mistakes like getting on the wrong train or getting off at the wrong stop.  It’s natural to get things wrong so it’s important to help them develop the resilience to deal with it when that happens. 
  • Talk about the impact of peer pressure when they are out. Agree that no matter what, if they feel unsafe, you will come and get them and that they won’t be punished.  This is particularly important when young people start driving and may be around alcohol.

Further advice

You can also ask for advice from our parenting coaches.   


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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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