The summer holidays are almost upon us, bringing with it six long weeks of entertaining children, sorting childcare and juggling everything else. It's tempting to give kids the freedom to amuse themselves by heading out on their own - but when are they ready to do that?
Here's what you need to know before letting them off the parental leash.
How old does your child have to be to go out alone?
Interestingly there is no legal age for your child to stay home alone or be allowed out unsupervised, but it is illegal to let your child out alone if it puts them at risk.
It is never ok for babies or young children to be left alone, at home or away from home, even for a short time.
According to the NSPCC website, there is no set age when you will know it is safe for your child to go out without you.
So how do you go about making that big decision to let them out on their own?
"Most children reach a stage where they will start asking to do things without adult supervision, like walking to and from school alone or with friends, going to the local park or the shops," explains Parent Talk coach Megan Wright.
"This is an important part of their development, taking small, manageable steps will help them to become self-sufficient adults."
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While there is no set recommended age or law for when this can happen, Wright says children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone or go out alone for a long period of time.
"Each child is unique, and every situation is different, so it's better to look at the situation, weigh everything up and decide what you feel is safe for your child," she adds.
"Going out alone is a big step for any child and their parent, so it’s good to make sure you are both prepared and feel safe when the time comes."
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What to consider before allowing your child out alone
Your child’s age
Their development stage and capability
Their ability to keep themself safe, sense danger and know what to do in an emergency
Your child’s confidence: do they feel safe about being left alone or would they feel worried?
The time of day and how long they would be out alone. For example, the NSPCC advises that children under 16 should not be left alone overnight and that children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
If they would be caring for other siblings or babysitting and if so, what the caring responsibility involves
The team from Parent Talk, which offers free information on its website for parents of children aged 0 to 19 and a confidential one-to-one online chat service, has also shared some advice about preparing your child to stay home or go out alone.
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How to prepare you child to go out alone
Wright has put together some tips for prepping your child to go out unsupervised.
Build up to bigger challenges by breaking it into steps – if they want to walk home alone could they walk the first section and then meet you halfway?
Ensure they have the right safety skills for things like crossing the road, and that they stick to familiar routes or agreed areas
Create a safety plan – have yours and other emergency numbers written down, make sure they have enough money to get home if needed, and that they know safe places to go if they feel unsafe, for example a police station, pharmacy or library
Help them problem solve common mistakes like getting on the wrong train or getting off the bus at the wrong stop. We all get things wrong sometimes, so it's important to help them develop the resilience to deal with it when that happens
Talk about the impact of peer pressure when they are out. Agree that no matter what, if they feel unsafe, you will come and get them and that they won't be punished. This is particularly important when young people start driving and may be around alcohol