Deciding whether your child is old enough to be left alone in a car can be tricky, so it’s wise to give the situation some thought, rather than making a spur of the moment decision.
Firstly, it’s important to know the law: The government states it is an “offence” to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.
The gov.uk website states: “Use your judgement on how mature your child is before you decide to leave them alone, e.g. at home or in a car.
“Parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’.”
“Even if they’re sleeping peacefully when you leave, they could well wake up and get very upset when you’re not there to look after them.”
The NSPCC spokesperson continued: “[The child] would not be able to protect themselves in an emergency and may even try to leave the vehicle to find you.
“As children become older parents need to exercise their own judgement about whether they can be briefly left in a car.
“If they can see the vehicle the whole time it may be ok, depending on your child’s maturity.
“However, every child is different and every parent needs to make their own decision on whether their child is ready to be left in this scenario.”
The NSPCC advises 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, and babies, toddlers and very young children should “never be left alone”.
The charity also advises parents to speak to their children about how they feel about being left alone, whether in a car or at home.
“It’s a good idea to agree on some rules that suit your child’s age and maturity before leaving them alone,” they advise.
“Talk to your child about what’s OK and not OK, and maybe even write up a list of what you decide.”
If you’re worried about when your child is old enough to be left at home alone, you can call the NSPCC’s helpline on 0808 800 5000.
Parents may also find advice from Family Lives charity that provides help and support on all aspects of parenting by calling 0808 800 2222.