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Do you know what the minimum age that kids can be left alone is in your state?
Babysitting rules and regulations can be totally confusing, especially when it comes to the logistics of leaving kids home alone or looking after younger siblings. We'll help you figure out if your child is old enough to start babysitting and how to make sure they stay safe when they do.
We hear all sorts of mixed information about babysitting ages and legalities, and many parents feel confused when it comes to figuring out what's the responsible thing to do. Some states have a minimum age to babysit, but mostly there are just guidelines and suggestions and not that many babysitting laws, so we're here to debunk the myths and help you decide whether your child is mature enough to start babysitting.
For more, check out our take on how to navigate [grandparents disrespecting parents] and learn about these lovely [Hanukkah prayers].
There isn't actually a legal age in most states for babysitting, but the general consensus is that the age of 12 is a good minimum age to work with when deciding if your child is old enough to start babysitting.
It's recommended that children under the age of 12 shouldn't be left at home alone for long periods of time. Even if your child is mature for their age, they might be faced with situations that they aren't used to, or feel overwhelmed and scared. This means that children aged 11 and under should not babysit for others. Babies and toddlers should never be left home alone, even for short periods of time, because they can put themselves in danger even if you aren't watching them for just a few moments.
For kids that are 16 years or younger, the law states that parents must provide "reasonable provision" for their safety, which is quite vague and open to your own interpretation over what you feel comfortable with based on the situation.
If you want to leave your child to babysit overnight, then it's best for them to be 16 years or older, and it is helpful if they can drive safely in case they need to go anywhere in an emergency. We recommend leaving 16-year-olds home alone without anyone to look after before they are left alone with younger siblings, so they can see how they feel and work out if it's something they are going to feel comfortable with.
Different children reach levels of maturity at totally different rates, and you will know better than anyone if your child is ready to try out being a babysitter for their siblings. Take into account your child's judgment and problem-solving skills when deciding if they are going to be responsible enough. Obviously, kids with special needs will need special consideration before they are babysitters or are babysat by older siblings because the experience is going to be slightly different depending on the needs of your child.
The length of time you leave a child babysitting for their younger sibling is also a factor in whether it's going to be something they can handle. We recommend starting out by leaving children for short intervals before gradually increasing to longer stints, so everyone is comfortable and confident.
The long and the short of it is that leaving your older kids babysitting siblings is largely a case-by-case situation. If you're leaving a younger teen with an older child, then this is going to be a lot easier for the teen to handle than leaving a nine-year-old with a three-year-old, which should be avoided as there are a lot more safety precautions to take into account. Equally, if your 12-year-old feels confident babysitting their eight-year-old sibling, this could be something you explore. It might be a different experience altogether than if you leave them in the house with three younger children.
In the US and Australia, most states (including California, Colorado, and Texas) don't have a legal minimum age for when a child is mature enough to start babysitting, except from the state of Maryland, where you must be 13 years old to babysit. So, if you are looking for a simply babysitting age by state law, unfortunately, it isn't that simple.
Most people recommend age 12 as a good minimum age for kids to start thinking about becoming babysitters, but babysitter ages will also largely depend on whether parents are happy to leave your child alone looking after their children or not. You can't babysit without anyone to look after!
It might be a good idea for your child to start their babysitting job by practicing babysitting siblings and family members that they know well, to gain a little bit of experience before taking on jobs with kids and parents who are less familiar to them. Once your child is completely comfortable babysitting for family, they can branch out and offer their services to neighbors, family friends, and members of a local church or worship community, where parents know your child and might be more comfortable hiring them for babysitting jobs.
To gain the trust of the parents your child is going to babysit for, we recommend that your child visits their house and works as a mother or father's helper once or twice, to show them that they are responsible enough to take on the job of babysitting their kids. That way they can test out if they feel comfortable, and the parents can get to know your child and their capabilities.
Bear in mind your child's age when they are looking for jobs as a babysitter. Parents might prefer to hire an older babysitter for longer periods of time, or for times that last until late into the evening, but younger kids might prefer babysitting for a couple of hours after school, to begin with.
Most parents are going to have a good sense of their own child's maturity level and will know if they are ready to take on the task of babysitting their siblings. You might be completely confident that they are ready to babysit, or feel a little bit worried and want to ease things in slowly. Either way, these guidelines should help even the most worried parents feel confident that they've done their best to prepare their child.
The easiest first step to working out how confident your teen is in taking on the role of babysitter is to sit down and have a conversation with them about it. Ask them if they'd feel confident in different situations when there's no adult around, and you'll get a good idea of how they might behave and their maturity level when it comes to taking on the job of a babysitter.
The Red Cross offers an amazing course to kids between the ages of 11 and 15 to get them ready to look after other kids safely, which we totally recommend for anyone who is the right age to start babysitting and wants to give it a go. We also recommend that kids take part in a CPR and first aid course so that they know how to handle any emergencies and can take safety precautions if anything drastic happens. Make sure your first aid kit is up to date and has everything you need so your teen babysitter can put their learning into practice if they need to.
Before your child's first time babysitting, talk through any common scenarios that might occur, and the best way to deal with each situation. As parents, so many things are second nature, but to a 12-year-old these might be the first times that they have to handle some situations alone. Talk through what they might do if the kids are misbehaving, if the electricity goes off, and the best person to call in an emergency. We're sure you'll be able to think of more random issues that arise in your house, so keep your oldest in the know about how to handle anything that comes up.
If you have specific routines that your children follow, then don't expect your oldest to automatically know what they are, no matter how mature they are. Chances are they don't really give your jobs a second thought (kids, hey) so it's worth writing the routine down for them to follow along with, and talking them through how to do it step by step.
It's good to put some house rules in place if you're leaving children or teens alone, so they know what is expected. It's much easier to justify ordering pizza with the "emergency" credit card if you haven't been explicitly told not to, trust us on that one. Go over what they should eat, how you'd like them to behave, and if they're allowed to invite friends over. Consider leaving money for take-out or an easy microwave meal to avoid them having to use the oven or hob, to give yourself one less thing to worry about.
Our best tip for parents when they are leaving their children as babysitter for the first time is to go gradually. Test out leaving your child to babysit while you're in another room to assess how they handle the experience first, and you can go from there. You might want to leave kids alone while you visit a neighbor for a coffee so that you aren't far away if they need your help. After that, you and your teen babysitter will feel a lot more confident to start babysitting while you're farther from home or out for longer periods of time.
If you found this article helpful, then why not take a look at our how-to guide about talking to your kids about [how are babies made] or our look at how often should grandparents see their grandchildren?
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