When your children are very small it’s likely that you are with them pretty much all of the time that they are awake. As they start to get older, you might begin to wonder when it’s ok for them to be left to play unsupervised so that you can get on with some work or enjoy a cup of tea in peace. You might also want to encorage your child’s independence and take a more free range approach to parenting. In this post we’ll explore what age a child can play inside unsupervised as well as what age they can play alone in the garden.
What Age Can a Child Play Inside Unsupervised in the UK Legally?
This very much depends on whether you are at home with them or you plan to go out and leave them home alone.
With regard to leaving children home alone, while the UK doesn’t have specific laws on the subject, parents can be prosecuted for leaving children unsupervised:
“in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health”Government Website
The government website suggests you follow the NSPCC guidelines. They say that a child under 12 is unlikely to be safe alone for an extended period of time and a children under 16 should not be left alone overnight. Babies, toddlers and young children shouldn’t be left alone. Essentially it is up to you as a parent to use your judgement about your own child and when they are mature enough to be home alone.
There is no official guidance on leaving children to play unsupervised in a different part of the house to you so in this post we’ll look at some of the things you should consider when making the decision.
What Age Can a Child Play Alone in a Room?
The answer to this will depend on the age of your child, their personality and the set up of your home.
Leaving Babies and Toddlers to Play Unsupervised
While you shouldn’t leave them to play inside unsupervised for too long, a baby who isn’t mobile yet can be left on the floor to play as long as you are nearby. Just don’t leave them for too long as you never know when they will go from being non mobile to being mobile! If you have a secure playpen then you can safely leave a slightly older baby alone to play for a few minutes while you pop to the toilet or put the kettle.
In many ways, that’s the easiest time, once they are toddlers, leaving them alone becomes a riskier business. Once they start to climb they can’t be left in a playpen as they are likely to try and climb out. In reality, unless you have a completely empty space, pretty much any room can pose a risk to toddlers.
While leaving toddlers to play in a room alone isn’t generally possible, I would suggest you try and let them feel like they are playing in a room alone some of the time by taking a backseat. If you want your child to be able to play independently when they’re older, now is the time to encourage it. With my youngest, I was always on the floor with him and he got in the habit of expecting me to be there. Once he was old enough to play alone, he struggled with it and has often complained about boredom as an older child. I was careful not to make that mistake with my youngest and she is much better at independent play.
Leaving Preschoolers to Play in a Different Room
The preschooler age runs from 3-4 or 5 depending on their birthdays and by the end of this age range most children will be able to play safely alone in a room for short periods of time.
At 3 years old, some children will still be keen to climb on the furniture and put everything they come into contact with in their mouths and so won’t be safe without your supervision. Other 3 year olds never really took to climbing and have passed the phase of exploring everything with their mouth. They will play happily with their toys instead of eating the pot plants.
If you’re not sure if your child is ready yet, spend some time watching what they do to see if they do anything that would cause them serious injury if you weren’t there to stop them. I’d suggest doing this on a number of occasions to get a realistic picture. Leaving a child unsupervised will never be risk free because life isn’t risk free, so you’ll have to decide for yourself how much risk you are comfortable with.
Before you leave them alone, do a mini risk assessment. Have a look around the room to see if there are any ways they could injure themselves and take any necessary precautions.
Letting Older Children Play in a Room Unsupervised
Children over five who don’t have any additional needs should be able to play inside unsupervised in a room as long as any obvious dangers have been removed. You’ll still want to take sensible precautions like removing sharp knifes and medications or chemicals from the room.
When Can Children Play Upstairs Unsupervised
Babies and Toddlers are probably safest kept on the same floor as you unless they are safely in their beds, or at least their bedrooms in the case of toddlers who have graduated to beds, often because they have learnt to climb out of their cots.
Depending on their personality, older preschoolers might be safe playing upstairs by themselves as long as they know not to play near the top of the stairs and can be trusted to follow rules about that. Children over 5 should also be safe to play upstairs unsupervised although if they have friends over I like to pop up from time to time to make sure they are playing nicely.
At What Age Can a Child Play by Themselves in the Garden?
Some kids just want to be outside all the time and this can make life difficult parents who need to get things done in the house and sometimes just get sick of being cold!
The amount of risk with playing in the garden without an adult will depend a great deal on your garden. If you’ve got a child who loves being outside then it’s probably worth putting some work in to make it as safe as possible.
The main risks for young children playing outside are ponds where they can drown and things they can climb on and then fall off of. Minimising these risks will make garden play safer.
Realistically, babies and toddlers won’t be safe left completely unsupervised in a garden. To play in the garden by themselves, a child needs to be able to understand and follow the rules that will keep them safe. What those rules are will depend on your garden but might include things like:
- Staying away from ponds
- Not going into sheds where tools and chemicals are kept
- Not climbing on things that aren’t safe to climb on
- Not eating plants that could be dangerous
- Not touching things that could be animal poo
Young children who are playing in the garden should be checked on regularly but that doesn’t mean you need to be outside with them all of the time. If you have a clear view of your garden from your house, even toddlers can be supervised from inside.
Playing in the back garden unsupervised opens up a whole new world of play for your child so while it might be tricky, it’s well worth the effort.
Tips for Deciding What Age YOUR Child Can Play Inside Unsupervised
- Do they like to climb things that aren’t meant to be climbed? This often makes furniture a risk
- Do they still explore new things with their mouths? This makes small items and anything that could be poisonous a risk
- Do they understand information you give them? If they can’t understand a rule, they can’t follow it
- Do they follow your rules? If they can’t follow a rule, it won’t keep them safe
- Are they comfortable with being unsupervised? You’ll need to make sure that they are comfortable with being left alone in a room or garden and that they know where you are if they need you
If your child is older, you might also be interested in this post about when a child can play outside unsupervised.
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