Q. My daughter is 11, my son is almost 8. At what age can I leave her in charge for a few hours in the evening?
A. It depends on the child, of course, but 11 or 12 seems to me to be a good age to start babysitting a sibling. Assess your daughter's readiness: Do you trust her common sense? Can she think clearly (enough) under pressure? Can she remember important information (like the name of at least one neighborhood adult)? Can she handle simple first aid and figure out when to dial 911? Is your son likely to be cooperative? If you decide she can handle it—as you would do for any babysitter — leave clearly posted contact info for you and several other adults nearby, as well as for poison control. Some states have adopted "Home Alone" laws, which set standards for when kids can be left alone and for how long.
Originally published in the November 2006 issue of Family Circle magazine.