Leaving your child home alone

Advice on giving your child independence

Many parents will be familiar with the age-old dilemma of how and when to start giving children more independence. Some children are allowed to go to the local shops or walk to school from an early age, whilst others get to high school and have never had to do anything for themselves before. There is no right or wrong answer and, as all parents know, it depends on the child themselves.

  • Remember that there is no legal age when a child can be left at home unsupervised, but there are laws around neglect. As a parent, you are legally responsible for your child, so make sure they are really ready before leaving them at home alone.
  • Moving to secondary school is a key age where children have to become more independent. At this age many children start to go to school under their own steam – whether it’s walking or a school bus. If this is the case for you, make the most out of the summer holidays and have a few practice runs with them so they feel more relaxed about going to school without the embarrassment of mum or dad anxiously watching them in front of friends and older children.
  • Think of it as an ongoing process so it feels less overwhelming. So for example, if they want to walk to the local shops for the first time on their own you may set a few ground rules, such as the first time they go with an older brother, sister or cousin, or that they have to come straight back. Ensure your child knows that by giving them responsibility and freedom they also have to keep to rules and know there are consequences.

“I let my son go to the newsagent by himself, but the first time he bumped into friends and got distracted. When he didn’t come home I was worried sick and ended up searching the streets for him. It taught me that I had to be clear with him about what I wanted and told him to come straight home the next time.”

  • Have on-going gentle conversations about stranger danger but don’t make your child frightened. Schools also tend to cover stranger danger but rehearse with your child what to do if a stranger approaches them.
  • The biggest risk to your child is road safety. Children can become easily distracted without you to prompt them about road safety. Keep reminding them to cross roads safely and be sensible.
  • If they want to play out with their friends, set ground rules including when you want them to come home. Parents say they get their child to agree where they will be, and if friends want to go somewhere else they should let them know and not just wander off.
  • If your child has started to play out unsupervised with friends it is worth making quiet times to talk about peer pressure. Help them think through how they would deal with a situation that made them uncomfortable, such as if someone was being bullied, or the group of friends started smoking or drinking alcohol or getting into trouble.

leaving child home alone

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

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