Having your older child babysit their younger sibling can be a great way to save money instead of paying a babysitter. It helps teach your children responsibility and independence, as well as encourages bonding between siblings.
Most experts believe nearly all children can start babysitting siblings for short periods of time by the age of 12. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that each child is different. Some children may take longer to be able to handle the responsibility of looking after themselves and another child.
Parents can start small with 30 minutes, then gradually increase that time once a child proves themselves to be responsible and trustworthy.
What should parents consider before leaving children with a sibling?
Parents should ensure the following before leaving their oldest child with younger siblings:
What are the ages of the oldest and youngest child?
Remember, these are only recommendations. You will need to take into account your child’s maturity level. Experts recommend that:
- A child should be at least 12 years old before being left alone at home and at least 15 years old before they can care for a younger sibling.
- Children should not be left alone overnight until the oldest child is at least 16 years old.
- A newborn, infant, or toddler younger than 2 years old requires more attention and should ideally be left alone with an older sibling who is at least 16 years or older and only for a short time.
Does the oldest child have good judgment?
Parents should think about the following questions about their oldest child before they allow them to babysit a younger sibling:
- Can the oldest sibling handle unexpected situations without panicking?
- Have different situations been explained to them?
- Do they know what to do and whom to call during an emergency?
- Do they have good overall problem-solving skills?
Does any child have special needs?
If any of the younger children are too young, have behavioral issues, or have additional physical or mental needs, they can be difficult to manage by an older sibling and may need an adult’s supervision.
Are the children self-sufficient?
If a child can perform daily tasks on their own, such as brushing their teeth, getting themselves snacks or water, getting dressed, or making a call when there is a problem, they are generally self-sufficient.
The oldest child is probably ready to babysit their siblings for longer periods of time if they can cook meals, wash dishes, go to bed on time on their own, and complete other chores around the house. The oldest child should also be able to identify safety hazards, avoid them, and know what to do in emergencies.
What should the oldest child know before being left alone with the younger siblings?
Before being left home to look after younger siblings, the oldest child should know the following:
- How to use the phone
- When and how to call 911
- Contact information of parents and other in case the parents are not reachable
- How to operate the home security system, if there is one
- How to lock and unlock doors
- How to turn lights off and on
- How to operate the microwave
- Basic first aid
- What to do in case of emergencies, such as fires, severe weather conditions (tornado, power outage)
- What to do if strangers visit the house or someone calls for the parents
- Safe games to play with the younger siblings
- Ways to console and entertain younger siblings
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Connecticut State Department of Children and Families. Guidelines for Leaving Your Child Alone. https://portal.ct.gov/DCF/Families/Leaving-your-child-alone
Kansas Department for Children and Families. Factors to Consider Before Leaving a Child Home Alone. http://www.dcf.ks.gov/services/pps/documents/ppm_forms/appendices/appendix_1b.pdf
Illinois Department of Central Management Services. Preparing Your Children to Stay Home Alone. https://www2.illinois.gov/dcfs/safekids/safety/Pages/Preparing-Your-Children-to-Stay-Home-Alone.aspx