Big Issues

Would You Leave Your Child Home Alone?

Now that schools have broken up for the summer families across the UK are faced with the difficult question of how to look after their children for six weeks of holiday. And a glance at social media reveals this is not something many parents look forward to.

A glance at social media reveals this is not something many parents look forward to.

Spending so much time together can mean the usual tiny irritations can easily become flashpoints for arguments and tantrums, and if you’re a working parent there is no way you can take six weeks off work.

Since having children we’ve been dreading the day when we can’t rely on a full-time nursery for most of the year, and I don’t know what we’re going to do when the boys start school, especially as their grandparents are not local.

When I was little my mum didn’t work (as many didn’t in the 1970s) so I never had to think about who looked after me, but I am sure it was still a chore at times for her.

Today I can see why the pressure and lack of affordable childcare options may lead to some parents having to think about leaving their children at home alone for at least part of the day.

Whether or not this is OK will, of course, depend on the age and maturity of your children.

What Age Can You Leave Children At Home Alone?

I was surprised to learn that there is no minimum age in the UK when you can legally leave your children to look after themselves.

At first glance, this seems odd but there is a legal backstop:

…Parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’

The law is putting the onus squarely on the parent to make a risk assessment and decide whether it’s safe to leave their child on their own for an amount of time.

When you think about it this is sensible as it would be impossible to pick an arbitrary age as children mature at different rates and everyone’s home circumstances are different.

I was given a key to the door and allowed to walk to and from school with my friends from the age of nine. We lived in a quiet semi-rural suburb and there were no busy roads to cross other than one with a lollipop man outside the school.

When I got home mum was usually there but occasionally, I let myself in knowing she would be at the corner shop and home soon. I was sensible enough to know not to meddle with the oven or kettle or anything else that could harm me.

Today, some nine-year-olds in similar situations might also be fine to spend short amounts of time in the house on their own. But I don’t think any child under 13 should be left on their own for several hours, and even then you’d need to have clear ground rules and regularly checking in.

As a general guide the children’s charity the NSPCC says:

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

Childcare During The School Holidays

We have another year before Billy starts school so, for now, we’re tootling along with our nursery routine. Although they did close for a week and that amount of time with both boys was enough to give us a taste of what’s to come!

If family and friends can’t help out or can only take the children for the odd day there are some childcare options.

– Summer Camp: still sounds like a USA thing to me but if you want to ship the kids off for a week or two these activity holidays might be for you. They are usually from age 7 and up and held at secure residential centres such as boarding schools.

– Day Camps: a similar range of activities but you drop off and pick up the children each day, this means they cater for younger children and run roughly 9am-5pm (which doesn’t factor in your commute).

– Playschemes: these are usually for a few hours rather than a whole working day but might help if you freelance and/or work from home some days.

– Hire a childminder or nanny for the summer: the most expensive option but you’ll have the peace of mind knowing whatever work throws at you the kids are in safe hands. It might be possible to share someone’s services with friends to help keep the costs down.

Keeping Children Safe Online In The Holidays

Billy and Ipad

Even when children are with you at home or away during the holidays there is still one place I’d never leave them unsupervised, and that’s online.

Even at the age of three Billy loves playing games and watching videos on our iPad, and I have no issue with this as long as it’s part of a balanced play routine.

I have made sure the parental controls are on and I’ve blocked access to the internet, allowing him to play offline games and use safe apps such as Cbeebies or Sky Kids that filter content for young children.

Even so, I still take an interest in what Billy is watching and playing, because I like to make it part of our time together and I can talk to him about things he doesn’t understand or make him feel uneasy. Being so young he’s bothered by something as innocuous as a spiky pine cone falling on a mouse’s head in The Gruffalo game!

I think parents need to start conversations with their children about what they are viewing online as soon as they show an interest. Chatting with your children regularly from an early age is the best way to keep them safe online and the conversation can then develop naturally as they grow.

Chatting with your children regularly from an early age is the best way to keep them safe online and the conversation can then develop naturally as they grow.

The NSPCC offers the following tips which can help start the conversation:

– Explore sites and apps together – this will give you a much better idea of what they are looking at and enable you to encourage and support them.

– Know who your child is talking to online – there, children often don’t see people as strangers, but as online friends. Make sure you know who they are friends with online, and explain that it’s easy for people to lie about themselves.

– Set some boundaries – set some rules, including when and where they can go online, what websites they can visit and how they share images.

– Make sure the content is age appropriate – ensure your child is using sites right for their ages, and don’t feel pressured into signing up to websites they are too young for. The age limits are there for a reason.

– Use parental controls: these are usually easy to switch on but if you’re struggling to find them give the NSPCC’s free online safety helpline a call on 0808 800 5002

The NSPCC has teamed up with O2 to offer parents on any mobile network free online safety advice through the O2 Guru Service, including setting up parental controls on a phone or tablet.

For more information visit www.nspcc.org.uk/o2 *


Here are some more useful links on finding holiday childcare:

Summer Fun 4 Kids: directory of summer camps in the UK

Netmums: finding holiday play schemes in your area

Childcare.co.uk: find a nanny


* Full disclosure: The NSPCC asked me if I would cover this topic but I received no payment for doing so.

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