Is 12 old enough? And what rules should parents set for their kids before they start babysitting someone else's children? Child and family psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D. weighs in.

By Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D.
woman and child on swings
Credit: Illustration by Jessie Ford

There are no specific rules about how old children have to be to babysit, because it depends on the child's maturity, judgment, responsibility, and motivation as well as the demands of the babysitting job. I've known 10-year-olds who would do an excellent job watching a younger child, and I've known 16-year-olds who weren't ready for that responsibility.

If you feel your son or daughter is not ready to babysit, he or she could start by being a mother's helper. When your kid does start babysitting, you may want to have your her start small, maybe by watching a cousin or familiar neighbor's child for a couple of hours, during the day, so she or he can build up confidence and gain experience.

The next step could be evening babysitting during a time when you're nearby in case of an emergency, or if he or she gets scared or overwhelmed. Make it clear that allowing your child to babysit doesn't mean giving blanket permission for all jobs. You'll want to consider the demands of each particular situation. Obviously, it would be easier for her to watch one child than several, and to watch an older, verbal child than an infant. Knowing what the child or children are like is also important. Even adults can feel overwhelmed by many rambunctious kids!

Here are a few babysitting rules to set for your child to set everyone up for success:

  • You know (and like) the family requesting her services.
  • You and/or the parents will be nearby in case of emergency.
  • The job finishes no later than one hour past her normal bedtime.
  • The job does not interfere with your family plans.
  • The job does not interfere with her school/family responsibilities.