How to know if your child is ready to stay home alone this February half term

Last modified on Tuesday 13 February 2024

child and front door

Parents have been urged to read the NSPCC's latest guidance on leaving kids home alone as the charity gets ready for a surge in calls to its helpline

If you're wondering how you'll juggle work and the half term, you might be asking, 'What age can I leave my child home alone?'.

While there isn't a legal age, there IS a recommended age below which kids shouldn't be left home by themselves ... and it might surprise you.

The NSPCC is urging parents to be aware of this age guidance, and think carefully about leaving their children by themselves at home.

When can kids be left at home alone?

There's no legal age for when children can be left home alone, as every child matures at a different rate. However it IS against the law to leave a child home alone if it puts them at risk.

The NSPCC doesn't recommend leaving children under the age of 12 at home on their own. They say this is because 'children in primary school aged 6-12 are usually too young to walk home from school alone, babysit or cook for themselves without adult supervision.'

How do I know if my child is ready to be home alone?

An NSPCC spokesperson added:

'We would advise a child who doesn’t feel comfortable shouldn’t be left alone.

'Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time.'

'Make sure they feel safe'

Helen Westerman, head of local campaigns at the NSPCC said:

'Lots of parents will be thinking about whether it’s safe to leave their children at home safely, and if they’re old enough to leave the house unsupervised.

'This can be a really tricky decision for parents and carers to make as it will differ from child to child.'

Although the charity usually receives the highest number of calls from adults during the winter months, the number of calls also increase once kids have broken up from school for the summer.

Over the past couple of years, more than 2 in five calls from adults took place during the months of May, June, July and August.

Helen adds:

'As well as navigating if a child is ready to be left alone, lots of parents will also find managing work alongside the school break really challenging, particularly in light of the soaring child costs and the cost of living crisis, which is putting additional pressure on families.

'As children get older, it’s common for them to want more freedom and learn to be independent. This is an important part of growing up, but we know there can be a lot to think about for parents. As every child is different, we recommend building up their independence at their pace and checking in with them to make sure they feel safe.'

Take the 'home alone' quiz

Last year, the charity's helpline made 566 referrals to external agencies such as the police or social services in the West Midlands alone. This was following reports of children being left at home – a 23% rise from 2021.

The NSPCC ‘Home or Out Alone’ campaign aims to help parents and carers decide if their child is ready to stay home, or go out alone unsupervised.

Take their quiz to see if your child is ready to be home alone.

What does the official guidance say?

The government's website says:

'The law does not say an age when you can leave a child on their own, but it’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.'

It also notes that parents should use their 'judgement on how mature [their] child is before [they] decide to leave them alone, for example at home or in a car.'

The NSPCC says that:

  • children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
  • children under 16 should not be left alone overnight
  • babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone

If you are worried about a child, even if you are unsure, contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email

When do you think children should be left alone?

We asked Netmums followers on Instagram what age they think children can be left alone during the summer holidays and received some interesting responses.

While some parents think it depends on the individual child, others think that children aged 11 and 12 are old enough to be left alone.

And, while some believe that 13 or 14 is a more appropriate age to leave a child alone during the summer, others think that children shouldn't be left alone in the house until they are 15 or 16.

But one parent made the important point of asking how long they'd be left on their own for.

They said:

'Depends on how long you're leaving them for ... an hour or all day?'

What do you think? Are you struggling with childcare over the summer? At what age would you feel happy leaving your kids alone in the summer holidays? Share your thoughts on all things childcare in our chat forum below.

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