What Is Considered an Appropriate Babysitting Age?

Updated on February 08, 2019
L.S. asks from Omaha, NE
17 answers

We have three daughters. The oldest is in 6th grade and is 11 (12 in August). Our second is 7 and youngest will be 2 in May. I know it depends upon the behaviors of the kiddos, but I’m wondering what the opinion is on allowing my oldest to babysit our younger girls this fall after she is 12, and the youngest is over 2. Example scenario would be an evening when my husband and I would go to dinner or out with friends, returning around 10pm. She’s really good with the toddler and gets along great with our second daughter. We live in a safe neighborhood, she had a brief class at school about babysitting, and she has a cell phone (this past Christmas). Thoughts on what worked well for other families? Thank you!

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answers from Lansing on

Just a quick sidenote. My older son was 12 years older than my daughter. When he got his drivers license, people could not understand why I wouldn’t take advantage of that And let him drive my daughter around. Could you imagine The effect it would have on my son if something were to happen in a car accident to his baby sister ? He would never be able to forgive himself! So my husband and I decided that we didn’t want him to babysit or drive with her, etc. It just wasn’t his responsibility.
As some others have said I do think she is a little young for the baby. Things happen. What are you are willing to live with .

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answers from Boston on

I think it's less about age and more about attitude and maturity. If she does diapers and childproofing, then the toddler is manageable. I'd sit the middle child down and say that this is a test of her maturity as well.

Go locally for a couple of hours, and have a helpful neighbor on call and let your oldest know that she can call Mrs. X next door if she needs a quick opinion or another set of eyes before bringing you home from dinner. Then give her the space to succeed.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

The Red Cross offers babysitting classes for children 11 years and older. I think I was 10 when I took a babysitting class at my local YMCA. Classes like that teach CPR and other important things for handling situations that might arise.

You should provide your 12-year-old with the tools she needs to babysit "successfully" - it can be a great skill! Sign her up for one of the classes and see how it goes!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

it's on the young side, but if your younger ones aren't hellenions and your older is mature and responsible, i'd consider it.

naturally it makes sense to start with very short test runs, half an hour or so.

and while you want to bestow authority upon the daughter in charge, it might be helpful (depending on personalities) to make the middle one her *helper.* give her some skin in the game, and make her less likely to challenge the one in charge.


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answers from San Francisco on

We started leaving ours alone together at about that age, just to go out to dinner and other local things. Just make sure your oldest knows what to do in an emergency and of course not to answer the phone or door unless it's family.
My daughters also got their babysitting certifications through the community center when they were 11/12 and started watching other peoples' kids :-)

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answers from Norfolk on

Where I grew up 14 was the youngest age for being a baby sitter.
The neighbors just would not hire anyone younger than that.

When I was 17 I was babysitting 3 kids (an infant boy, a 4 yr old boy and 5 yr old girl) for the evening - was suppose to be until 11pm and the parents did not return home.
At about 3am a pair of battered and bandaged people showed up at the front door.
They had me check the photos over the fireplace to identify them and they showed me ID - they were the kids aunt and uncle.
The parents (and these people) had got into a fairly bad car accident and the parents were in the hospital.
The aunt and uncle paid me, took me home and took over looking after the kids and the parents called me a week later to thank me for handling things till a responsible party could come to take care of the kids.

How would a 12 yr old handle something like that?

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Once my kids were past the infant stage, I considered 13 to be old enough for a babysitter. For my own kids, it's actually a little harder because the younger doesn't want to listen to the older - just regular sibling dynamics - he doesn't believe his brother should be able to tell him what to do. So although I would consider my older to be completely capable of babysitting someone else's kids, I don't put him in charge of his sibling for more than an hour or so.

So, even if your kids get along great and the younger ones will listen to their sister, in my opinion, you probably have another year of hiring outside babysitters.

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answers from New York on

I think my son was 13 before I let him watch his sister so hubby and I could go out to dinner or a neighbors house.
I think as long as you're comfortable with it, you might want to give it a try with a short sit (30 minutes to an hour), and assuming that's good, work up to a longer time frame.

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answers from Abilene on

I guess I’m the odd man out - my kids are nearly 5 years apart and I never left the oldest one in charge of the younger. I was the youngest of 3 and my mom never left my sister who was 5.5 years older in charge of me. She did however tell us we could “stay together” alone at the house. If we were responsible enough to follow her instructions and get along, we would have more opportunities for that freedom (of not having to accompany mom and dad). That made it a team effort and I was quick to be on my best behavior because I loved staying with my big sister. ;) worked well for our family.

I think it can damage the sibling relationship having the oldest “in charge” I’ve watched a close friend do this and two of her children can’t stand each other. She still leaves the oldest in charge and the younger sibling resents the whole set up.

I would think about having a baby sitter come in who is more responsible for the toddler and middle child. If either sibling was hurt while you were gone, how would you handle it? Would the oldest be able to get over it? I definitely think your oldest is ready to start babysitting training, but I think expecting her to look after two siblings, especially a toddler is a lot. A toddler can go from being calm and cooperative to hard to handle or in stuff they’re not supposed to be in very quickly.

You said she has a great relationship with her siblings. Let her have the sibling relationship without being responsible for them.

Just my opinion- from the youngest child’s perspective.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I would say 13 to watch other people's kids.
For your kids, I would get a babysitter. When kids are in their own home, they tend to be on their phone, feel comfortable cooking (yikes) and don't watch them as well.
I would get a babysitter for your kids since she is only 11/12 and you have a young child.

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answers from St. Louis on

So I am a Mom of a 6th grader who turned 12 right before the start of school. We have 4 additional kids (9 y/o, 6 y/o twins and a 1.5 y/o).

I had the 12 y/o attend a babysitting course over the summer. I do have her babysit the older three when I need to do a quick errand or drop someone off to an activity, however I don’t feel comfortable leaving my 1.5 y/o with her.

I will have her “watch” her baby sibling while I’m cooking dinner for instance.She isn’t always understanding of how quickly a toddler can move. She thinks she can read a book, lock him in her room with her and things will all be ok which isn’t the case. I think we will wait until the little one is closer to 3 and she is around 14 to actually babysit at night. We shall see.

She is quite dependable but the problem solving skills aren’t quite there yet.

Nighttime can be scary time for kids and if something strange were to happen I think she would go into a panic mode which wouldn’t be good. We really only leave her during daytime hours. She dislikes having a babysitter but understands it is more for her younger siblings.

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answers from Portland on

I have a large age difference between my kids (oldest to youngest) and so we could have babysitters. Ours took the course from Red Cross and also safety course too.

I didn't feel comfortable at first leaving them for long and not with multiple kids because it's not like when they go to someone's house to care for a child and getting paid, and being on a job. They go off and do their own stuff. They watch shows, play video games, etc.

So we started small - and one sibling at a time, and in junior high/middle school. We would go locally to get coffee, run an errand and saw how that went. Kind of like when you first leave your child alone home. We worked up to it.

When we first left our babysitter child, it was to go to our neighbor friends, and it was 2 streets over, and we checked in all night and we left around 8 after we put the youngest to bed. Our youngest was older than a toddler though. We never left any that young for siblings.

Once they are in bed, I felt ok to go to a neighbors house, and we'd put a movie on. So we started there, and paid them well. It was fun for them.

When I felt comfortable leaving longer that than - was around ninth grade I'd say. Then I felt a teen could cope - but we had neighbors on standby - always. I never left my kids without people aware that they might be called to rush over.

Hope that helps. I remember wondering the same thing. It does depend on your child - for sure. I found that my kids got weirded out by being in the house when it was dark, being the only one up. It helped to have a pet. It really does help to work up to it over time. We did the working up to it - for a couple of years. Until you start, you won't know how you feel. Do the one hour during the day, and see how that goes and keep going as you feel more comfortable as does your daughter.

Good luck :)

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answers from Santa Fe on

I let my 13 year old watch kids older than 4. I'm not sure I'd trust him to be really good about watching someone younger and really staying on top of things...especially a baby or toddler. That's a big responsibility. Your 12 year old might be a lot better at that kind of thing.

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answers from New York on

Check your state for laws regarding this. I know Illinois has age limits for how long a child can be home alone and for how old a child can be when they are left responsible for other children when home with our parents. But I don't know the actual laws. And your state may be different.

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answers from Washington DC on

First question is, what is the legal age to babysit in your state? In MD you have to be age 13 or older to be in charge of anyone (siblings included) younger than age 8. At Age 8 a child can be left home by themselves but can't be the responsible individual for anyone under age 8. So here your scenario wouldn't work. Should the 7 yr old turn 8 when the oldest turns 12 then you can leave those 2 alone as they are both over age 8 and both responsible for themselves but the 2 yr old can't be left with the oldest as the oldest isn't 13 yet.
That being said, if it's legal, what would the responsibilities of your 12 yr old be? Would she have to get the 2 yr old to bed by a certain time? Or is it OK if she stayed up til 10 when you got back? Would she have to make dinner? Whatever your expectations are of her just have her practice them to see how it goes. Like go for a walk around the neighborhood and have her put the youngest to bed. See how they both do. When my DS was 13 DD was 3 turning 4. If me and DH went out we'd make sure they had an easy low prep dinner and tons of available snacks they both liked so food wasn't an issue. DD was always a good sleeper and she'd tell you when she was ready for bed. I'd usually have her in jammies and a pull when I left so all he'd have to do was tell her to brush teeth and go potty and if either was forgotten it wasn't a huge deal. I also didn't care if she was awake when we got back, though she never was. We always went somewhere where we had cellphone reception too. If we were at a movie he'd text us and we always had our phones on vibrate but on our laps so we'd see if he texted and we'd go out and call him back from outside the theatre. Night time is scarier than day time too so I'd always keep all the blinds and windows shut to lessen the spookiness. He also had a cell phone full of contacts of neighbors (we live in a townhouse) who he could call if he needed an adult or had a non emergency question, like how do I make noodles or something? And an aunt who is a pediatric nurse. They always did fine. We prepared him for as much as we could but focused on the likely scenarios to happen like what to do in case of fire, don't ever answer the door, stuff like that.

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answers from Portland on

I'd call the police and perhaps Children Services to ask what the law is. I think many years ago our city had a law/ordinance in relation to age when a child could be left alone. We went to the home where an 8yo was left at home while mom worked. We talked to both mom and child asking about plans regarding safety. We decided she was safe at home.

I've read of times when the police have been called because multiple children were left alone. Children were taken to a foster home. Parents in court had to agree not to leave them alone before their children were returned. I wasn't involved so I don't know the circumstances. I've read of a couple more.

I suggest the police would not be involved unless someone called to complain. Or if an emergency required their presence.

Just something to consider.

I would not leave a 12 yo in charge of a 2 year old and a 7 yo because watching 2 children can be chaotic especially with a toddler. Consider what would happen if oldest daughter had to deal with both if they don't cooperate or if there is an emergency. You know your children. If you think they'll be safe, if you've discussed what to do in various situations with both the 12 and 7 yo and are satisfied that they are safe, you could try it out.

When I was 11, I watched 2 brothers, 1 and 9 and felt overwhelmed. Because we had a babysitter who left the baby's care up to me, my parents decided since I did all the work, I could be the babysitter. As I recall, I only babysat without an adult a couple of times. After that my mother took the youngest to a neighbor to watch

When I was 12, I babysat several times a couple of kids and it worked out fine. The children were already in bed asleep so I don't remember them.

My daughter, at 12 and with a friend, watched a 2-3 yo and a 9 yo during the summer. So they had 2 babysitters at same time. Mother was a nurse. Father a police officer. Parents of both sets of babysitters and parents of kids could be called at any time. The summer worked out fine. Childrens parents said that ages of 12 were better babysitters than teens.

Both of the successful times, mine and theirs, were with non-family members. That might make a difference.



answers from Miami on

I started when I was 13, almost 14. I took a Red Cross babysitting course in anticipation of the birth of my sister.

As a mom of grown kids, I didn’t hire kids younger than 13 to babysit. I did hire a mother’s helper who was a young 12. However, my boys were too much for her. I had to watch her watch them. I might have tried with her again when she got older, but we moved.

I would recommend checking to see if the YMCA offers a Red Cross babysitter course. It was great for me as a kid.

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