The Minimum Age to Start Babysitting

Teen girl feeding baby
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The right age to start babysitting is largely a judgment call based on several factors including the age and maturity levels of the children who need care and the maturity level of the babysitter providing the care. The level of care required also is an important factor; watching children for a couple of hours while the parents go out to dinner is significantly different from regular day care.

The babysitting course provided by the American Red Cross requires students to be at least 11 years old. While the maturity levels of 11-year-olds can vary greatly, how they handle a course like this can help exhibit how ready they are for light babysitting duties.

What the Law Says

Many states have no specific age requirements for babysitting, and others offer no more than guidelines for how old children should be before they are left home alone. Some of those recommendations are quite young. Kansas, for example, suggests that children as young as 6-9 can be left home alone for short periods of time. Illinois, on the other hand, states that children must be at least 14 to be left home alone for an extended period of time. However, 13-year-olds can work as babysitters as long as it is not for an extended period of time, which statute defines as 24 hours.

Maryland, as well, requires children to be at least 13 to work as a babysitter, but no other states define a specific age.

Free-Range Kids compiled a list of laws by state that can apply to babysitting. The best thing to do, however, is to check with your state department of health and welfare or children and family services to be sure of specific laws that apply to where you live and to stay current on any changes to such laws. In most of the country, determining how young a child can start babysitting will most likely fall to the parents. Both the parents of the babysitter and the parents of the children she will babysit need to consider if she is mature enough for the job.

Factors to Consider

Whether you are the parent of the prospective babysitter or the parent of the children in need of care, deciding if a child is mature enough to take on the responsibility involves a number of factors. They all should be considered when making a decision.

  • Safety: The Red Cross babysitting course is a good guideline to use since the course is recognized nationally. If your child expresses an interest in babysitting, have her attend the Red Cross course so she understands what the job will require. That will prepare her for the day you feel she is ready, and it will reassure you that she has received training. If you are the parents hiring a babysitter, requiring this certification is a good way to set a minimum standard and at least confirm that the babysitter is mature enough to complete the course successfully.
  • Maturity: The age when children can start babysitting often depends on how responsible the child is. The best judge of your child's maturity is you. Children vary widely in how fast their bodies mature and in how fast their judgment and responsibility matures. How comfortable would you feel leaving your younger children home alone with your child? How would you feel leaving her home alone with a baby? If your child is not ready to babysit, encourage her to look for mother's helper jobs until she is ready.
  • Age of Children: The age of the babysitter will be dependent on the needs of the child. Specifically, infants may require a teenager to babysit, preferably one who had experience caring for younger siblings when they were infants. Very active children will need a babysitter who can keep them engaged and out of mischief. Children with special needs or behavioral issues may need a more mature babysitter or one with care skills or rapport with the child.
  • Parents of Child: Ultimately, the parents leaving their children with your child will determine if they are ready to let your child babysit. They are the employers, and she is the employee. The younger the babysitter is, the more likely it is that the parents hiring her will want to be sure her parents are accessible and available in the case of an emergency.