Thank you for all of the response to my recent blog post about leaving a sleeping baby alone in a car for a couple of minutes. Several of you asked the logical follow-up question, how old does your child have to be to stay home alone?
When does a movie for two cost $80? When you have four kids and you have to pay a babysitter, that’s when. The last time my husband and I saw a movie in the theatre without the kids was Passengers in December 2016, a movie about a couple stranded alone on a luxury space liner. Spend an evening in our house and you will see why this premise would appeal us.
We, like all of you, are looking forward to the day when we can just go to the movies or to the store alone without having to drag the kids along or get a babysitter. So when exactly will that be?
The answer for us in Texas is, it depends.
Texas, unlike a lot of other states, does not have a law that says at what age a child is old enough to stay at home alone.
Instead, there are a number of factors that should be considered, including the child’s emotional maturity, the layout and safety of the home, the neighborhood where the home is located, the child’s ability to respond to an emergency, and whether the child has a mental, physical, or medical disability.
Other factors include the child’s accessibility to a responsible adult, the length of time you are away, how often the child is left unsupervised, and the child’s knowledge of the parent’s whereabouts. It is also important to consider how many children are left together unsupervised and their ages.
Consider these factors and your family’s situation carefully. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (CPS), inadequate supervision can be a type of neglect (neglectful supervision). CPS can find you have committed neglectful supervision after investigating a complaint.
How Can You Prepare Your Child to Be Left Home Alone?
Putting on my mom hat, here are some things my husband and I have done to prepare our oldest daughter to be left alone in the house. She has all of my phone numbers and my husband’s phone numbers memorized. She has access to the phone numbers of our neighbors, knows several of them quite well, and would feel comfortable going to them for help. We have also run through various scenarios with her, such as what to do if someone rings the doorbell or if there is bad weather.
How Old Does Your Child Have to be to Babysit?
I am going to guess the follow-up question from you people with a couple (or more) kids. That’s great we can leave our oldest home alone, but at what age can she babysit her siblings and we can be done with babysitters for good?
If you guessed the answer is it depends, you’re right.
According to CPS, in Texas, the issue is not so much about the age, but rather if the child in charge is mature and mentally capable of caring for children. While this is CPS’s policy, local municipalities may take a different approach. For example, the police in Brownsville have taken the position that a babysitter must be 15 years or older to take care of children without adult supervision.
The Red Cross offers babysitting classes for kids starting at the age of 11. It also recommends a minimum babysitting age of 11 to 15 years old.
Keep heart parents, like everything else with parenthood, the days of needing a babysitter are numbered.
What is your family’s policy on leaving kids home alone or babysitting other kids? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.
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My two oldest daughters are 12 and 10. Since this past summer, we have been regularly leaving them with their younger siblings ages 6, 4, and 18 months for an hour or so while we go down the street to have some dinner. Our next door neighbor is godmother to one of our children, and the girls have a prepaid cell phone we turn on for communication purposes while we are out. The younger ones listen to them and follow instructions well. The older girls know how to put the baby down for bed, and change a diaper. They are both Girl Scouts and have been through a basic first-aid training, so we feel secure in the knowledge that they know what to do in the event of a minor emergency. They know how to use the cell phone to dial either us or 911 if necessary. And it’s been a nice turn of the corner in our family life that we can enjoy some time together once a week or so without having to shell out another 50 plus dollars for babysitting. Plus it gives them a sense of responsibility and Independence that helps build their character.
Siobhan Fitzpatrick Kratovil says
It’s definitely a game changer. Do you pay the older girls for babysitting? We don’t pay cash but we do let them buy a new book (which is their “currency”).
It depends on the situation. If it’s later in the evening, the little ones are already in bed, and the older ones just need to stay up, then no. On the evenings, when they need to help the little ones finish dinner, and get ready for bed, etc, then we will pay them. Maybe $20 each for a week’s worth if we have to go out 2 -3 times that week. Maybe $10 if they have 1-2 babysitting sessions a week. We have started savings accounts for them so we don’t give them cash directly, just show them that we moved money into their accounts (which helps manage random spending). Also, if they do any extra chores while we are gone, we will pay them. So it’s a nice carrot to dangle, with them knowing they have to put in real work to get it, not just sit and watch Dr Who til we get home…
Siobhan Fitzpatrick Kratovil says
Transferring money to savings accounts is a great idea. Ours have them, but they usually just put birthday money in them. I wish mine would do an extra chore or two when I am not there to nag them ;-).
I think an interesting twist is for children with two homes–what rights does Mom have to challenge Dad’s decision to leave a 12 year old at home, for example? In addition to the state law requirements, parents likely need to keep in mind potential family law/custody related implications (if there would be any, that is!) of that night out.
Siobhan Fitzpatrick Kratovil says
An excellent point Hannah. I bet this issue is brought up a lot in contentious child custody arrangements. I would assume a family law judge would use similar factors as the ones used by CPS. Childcare is not cheap and there are parents who need to leave their kids alone in order to work.