Everyone knows the picture-perfect fantasy of mom greeting the kids at the door after they get off the school bus, snacks in hand. The reality for many working parents is quite different, however, with the kids arriving at home before their parents even leave work. In the United States, it is estimated that between 5 to 12 million pre-teens spend the afternoons without parental supervision.
Unfortunately, these kids are involved in accidents at a rate three times that of their supervised peers. You can mitigate this danger with some simple precautions. Your kids should be old and mature enough to handle being left alone. They must know and follow the house rules even when you aren’t there. Children should also be able to understand simple safety precautions. As their parent, you should also take advantage of home security precautions and the supervision of trusted neighbors.
Age and Maturity
Every kid is different in their ability to be trusted with responsibility. There is no specific age where it is acceptable to leave your kid alone, excepting, of course, compliance with state and local laws. Once they have exceeded the age required by law to be home alone, it is up to you to determine if they are ready.
Consider your child’s behavior when you are present. Are they independent or do they constantly run to you for all of their needs? Can they be trusted to watch out for younger siblings? Do they follow the rules even if they think you aren’t paying attention? If your kids are responsible and able to handle a variety of stressful situations on their own, they ought to be ready to handle being left alone.
Make sure your kids are completely aware of acceptable behaviors while you are gone. For example, you can tell them that they should complete homework, watch approved television networks, eat certain snacks or meals, and play in the yard. They should also be aware of what behaviors are unacceptable. You might also want to set rules about having friends over or trying to cook food.
Some parents choose to tell their kids exactly what needs to be accomplished while the parent is at work, such as leaving a list of chores. Whatever method you choose, make sure to set firm expectations on their behavior while you are gone. Knowing what you want them to do will help your child to tailor their activities to acceptable ones.
Make sure your kids know basic safety skills. For example, they should know what to do in case of a fire, who to contact in an emergency and where to go if they can’t get into the house while you aren’t there.
Teach your kids to come directly home after school. Tell them not to open the door for an adult they don’t recognize and not to enter the house if they see a broken lock or window as this indicates a break-in. You should also have your children lock the door behind them when they arrive.
Provide your child with a list of emergency numbers. These should include a way to contact you, the number for a trusted neighbor or nearby relative, police non-emergency numbers, and the number for the local hospital. Explain to them when they should use each type of emergency number.
You should also provide them with a basic first-aid kit and instructions on how to use it. They should be able to handle basic scrapes, cuts, and bug bites on their own. However, you also need to teach your child at what point they should simply call for help in case of an injury.
Take advantage of home security technology in order to keep your kids safer. If possible, you should have a motion sensor near all entrances and a glass break sensor on all windows. Make sure your children know what to do if one of the alarms goes off.
Make sure your home is equipped with working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Children may not always be aware of the smell of smoke or what it means and nobody can smell carbon monoxide. Make sure the batteries in the detectors are current and test them monthly. Teach your kids to call you and evacuate the home if one goes off.
Ask your neighbors to watch out for your kids when you first start leaving them home alone. If possible, find someone who is willing to watch for them to arrive or ring the doorbell to make sure they got home safely. At minimum, make sure there is a nearby neighbor they can go to if they feel unsafe in your house for any reason. In a real emergency, this might save their lives. In a non-emergency, it might keep your child from calling 911 over the scary noise on the roof (just squirrels).
If you think your child is really ready to be alone, you’re probably right. Just make sure to arm them with the right tools before you do so. Nowadays, there are many more options available to ensure your kids’ safety. Knowing and following basic house rules and safety precautions will go a long way, as can the right home security system and neighborhood supervision. Get the peace of mind you need while your children are home alone.
William Sheridan with Best Home Security provides answers and solutions for all your home security needs. Visit HomeSecurity.mywebpal.com for on-topic and useful information that can help keep your family safe.