As the lyrics from the old song go, “School’s out, school’s out. The teacher let the fools out.” Clearly it’s not kind to malign children, as the song seems to do, by referring to them as fools. After all, children are our future. They are a precious gift that must be protected from any harm. That’s why when school is out, it’s important that parents who work during the day make a plan for making sure their children are safe each day.
Some parents resort to day care for their children once school is out or depend upon relatives to babysit their children during the day. Others cannot afford daycare and possibly don’t have relatives nearby who can care for the children. Parents who face such a dilemma sometimes decide to leave their children at home alone. It’s important that those parents know how to decide if their children are ready to be left home alone.
Many child development experts believe that, developmentally, most children are ready to be left home alone at the age of 12 to 13 years. Not all children develop at the same rate, however. There are immature 13 year-olds who are dangerous risk takers. On the other hand, there are 11 year-olds who are mature enough to be capable of making sound and safe decisions. Here are some guidelines to help parents determine when and if their children are ready to be left home alone:
- Age -Younger children from 0-6 should never be left alone for even a short period of time. Children 6-9 can be left alone for only short periods of time. Children 10 and older can be left alone, depending on other possible factors.
- Length of time alone - Parents need to consider whether their children are ready to spend the whole day alone or if only a couple of hours is more appropriate.
- Maturity - Parents must take into consideration their children’s ability to fend for themselves and for their level of common sense. Certainly, children with developmental disabilities and emotional issues should be monitored closely.
- Knowledge of emergency preparedness - Parents should ask their children if they know what to do in the event of a fire, tornado, stranger at the door, etc. Ask “what ifs.” My book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers, is a good resources for finding the “what ifs” to ask children re stranger safety.
- Availability of adults - Children must know how to reach a responsible adult at any point in the day for any reason, even if it’s just to provide reassurance if the child becomes frightened.
- Insecurity - It’s important that children feel comfortable with being left home alone. If they have any fears or reservations about it, they should not be left alone.
- Behavior - Problem children who misbehave, vandalize, steal, bully or in any way intimate others need appropriate supervision and should never be left home alone.
- The first time children are left home alone it should be for a short time only and parents should be nearby, if needed.
There are also some guidelines that parents should follow to prepare themselves and their children for staying home alone:
- Parents should carry a cell phone with them and keep it turned on. Parents should make sure their children know where they will be and what time they will return. In addition to the cell phone number, parents should post emergency numbers (police, fire, EMS, doctor and the poison control hotline) and a friend or neighbor’s number by every phone in the home. Parents should teach their children their home address so they can tell emergency personnel where to dispatch assistance, if needed.
- It would be a good idea for parents to prepare a snack or meal in advance and preferably one that does not need to be heated. If children will need to cook, they should be warned never to leave an oven or stove unattended while cooking and to turn it off when they are finished.
- Parents should be certain that potentially poisonous or hazardous household items are locked up out of reach. This is especially true for medications, matches, lighters, weapons and cleaning products.
- Parents should review with their children the family’s emergency plans and make sure they know what to do if the smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector goes off. Parents should practice with their children two escape routes from each room.
- Parents should review and practice plans for other types of emergencies, such as severe weather. It’s important that children are instructed as to where to go for emergency shelter.
- Parents should show their children where the first aid kit is kept and how to use basic first aid supplies.
Picture credit: sanja gjenero