At What Age Can A Child Stay Home Alone With A Sibling

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As a busy parent, you may find yourself in situations where you have to leave your children alone at home. Since finding a babysitter is not always a viable option, you could leave your older child in charge. However, one question most parents ask while considering is at what age can a child stay home alone with a sibling?

According to the American Academy Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40% of children have been home alone at some point. Although this is a common situation, parents often find themselves stressed about their child’s safety, especially if it is their first time on their own (1).

Preparing your older child to be in charge by informing them who to contact if they feel unsafe and reminding them not to open the door for strangers can help you and them feel more at ease.

Read this article to learn about the factors to consider when allowing an older sibling to babysit, how to prepare them for it, and at what age they can begin to do so.

At What Age Can A Child Babysit A Younger Sibling?

Age is not the only deciding factor to determine if the child is mature enough to care for siblings as different children mature at different rates. Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, a board-certified pediatrician and a medical consultant for Mom Loves Best states, “There isn’t a legal age mandating the minimum age for a child babysitter. A good rule of thumb for a minimum age for siblings sitting for short periods is between 11 and 12 years old. Younger siblings should be over two years of age. On the other hand, the recommended age for an elder sibling for overnight sibling sitting and care of siblings under two years of age is 16 years old.”

You should also consider the guidelines set by your state, if any, to know the right age for children to be at home by themselves. For instance, Illinois (14 years old), Maryland (eight years old) and Oregon (ten years old) have guidelines dictating the minimum age requirement for children to be alone at home without adult supervision (2).

What To Consider When Letting An Older Sibling Babysit

Apart from the age, one needs to consider the child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being and the laws and policies of the state you live in to decide if the child can be left alone at home. Consider the following factors before letting the elder child babysit the younger child.

  1. The child’s physical and mental maturity to care for themselves and their siblings
  2. The child’s willingness to take up the responsibility
  3. The child’s compliance with house rules
  4. The child’s capacity to make correct decisions
  5. The child’s behavior and composure during unexpected events or stressful situations
  6. The child’s fears and apprehensions about being alone at home
  7. The child’s understanding of taking charge and not abusing power

Things The Elder Child Should Be Aware Of

You could assess the child’s abilities on the following to determine they can be left home alone and in charge of a younger sibling (3).

  • The child knows the protocols of handling strangers at the door.
  • The child has memorized the parents’ and local emergency authorities’ contact numbers.
  • The child knows how to talk on the phone – what information to share and what not to share.
  • The child is able to warm the food up for themselves and their siblings.
  • The child knows and complies with the guidelines for internet use.
  • The child has basic knowledge about administering first aid for minor cuts and scrapes.
  • The child knows of at least two escape routes from the house in case of a fire or similar
  • The child is frank enough to tell you about the events of their day without hiding anything.
  • The child understands the house rules and the importance of rules.
  • The child knows about the potential dangers of knives, scissors, medicines, pesticides, cleaning agents, etc.

Before letting your child babysit their sibling, you may consider enrolling them in basic safety courses such as the ones offered by the American Red Cross. You may also look for institutions that train children to check for choking, breathing, CPR, etc (4).

Preparing The Elder Child For Sibling Sitting

Use these tips to prepare your child to take up the responsibility of babysitting their sibling.

  • Inform the elder sibling if you plan to pay them for babysitting. Some families have arrangements to get the elder siblings a thing they want instead of cash.
  • Ask if they are willing to sign up for it and assure them that they can step down from the role anytime.
  • Run some trials at home, such as letting the elder sibling heat the meals for themselves and the younger one, playing with the younger one, and reading books together.
  • Set some ground rules and make sure they agree to them. These restrictions could include not cooking without parental supervision, not leaving the house, and not inviting neighbors or friends.
  • Teach your children about good touch and bad touch.
  • Educate them on what to do in unexpected situations such as
    • A small fire in the kitchen
    • When the smoke alarm goes off
    • When there is a warning for heavy rains, tornados, snowfall, etc.
    • Power outage
    • Someone calls or comes at the door asking for the parents
    • Someone arrives at the door saying the parent has sent for them
  • Consider enrolling your children in babysitting courses.

Tips For Parents

After evaluating all the parameters, if you decide to let the older sibling babysit the younger sibling, keep the following tips in mind (5).

  • Run some trials where you go out for about 30 minutes and come back. See whether the elder child is calm and composed or scared.
  • Keep enough healthy snacks and fruits at home.
  • Provide all the details to your elder child. Inform them in advance about when and how long you want them to babysit and when you will return.
  • To make it fun and not chore-like, you can rent a movie that they can watch together. Remember that just like professional babysitters, your child also has the right to decline the offer.
  • You can decide a time for Face Time with them when you are away. You can consider giving them an iPad, laptop, or phone if it suits your family’s rules and arrangements.
  • Ensure that the elder child does not stop having fun or feel burdened for taking care of the siblings.
  • Create a safe environment where the elder child does not feel that they are being robbed of their childhood or are forcibly overburdened.
  • Keep asking the child regularly if they are comfortable and still wish to continue to babysit.
  • Explain to your elder child the clear distinction between sibling and parental caring responsibilities. Appreciate them for stepping up to help you, but make sure they are not overwhelmed by the
  • Reconsider the amount of work and responsibilities you are putting on the elder child’s shoulders, especially if the younger child is very young and needs help with everything, including using the restroom and cleaning their hands.
  • Know that it can be overwhelming for a sibling to look after a younger child with mental or physical conditions or disabilities.
  • Do not go overboard with sibling sitting. Instead, you should consider other options such as professional babysitters, day cares, etc., if possible.
  • If possible, keep the neighbors informed about the children being alone, and let the children know that they can reach out to the neighbors in case of an

According to the Connecticut state guidelines, children should be at least 15 years old to care for younger siblings (6). However, this differs among states. So if you are wondering at what age a child can babysit siblings, first analyze their decision-making skills and willingness to take up responsibilities. Next, you can help prepare them for this task by teaching them what to do in unexpected situations and conducting trial runs. You could also ensure their safety by occasionally FaceTiming them. Finally, after taking the necessary precautions, you can ensure that your children are safe and prepared to take charge.

Infographics: How To Strengthen The Relationship Between Siblings?

Encouraging positive relationships between siblings can make your children more responsible. This may improve coordination between siblings when staying at home without being supervised by parents. The infographic below suggests ways to help siblings develop strong relationships.

ways to help siblings have a strong relationship [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • More than age, the child’s maturity determines their baby’s sitting capability.
  • Also, the legal age for babysitting varies from state to state.
  • You may determine if your child is ready to babysit based on their ability to handle strangers, obedience to rules, and compliance with safety protocols of the house.
  • It may also help prepare your child to babysit by enrolling them in a few courses and teaching them the basic household responsibilities.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a certified lactation counsellor from iNational Health Care Academy, Singapore and a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. She did her graduation in Dentistry from KM Shah Dental College. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate... more

Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri

(MD)
Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, popularly referred to as ‘The Celebrity Shrink,’ is an award-winning neuro-psychiatrist and mental health advocate with over 15 years experience. She is the medical director and psychiatrist-in-chief at Pinnacle Medical Services. She has created the innovative mental health app in Africa, HOW BODI. Dr. Kadiri is a Goldman Sachs Scholar on Entrepreneurial Management of Pan Atlantic... more