When is it OK for your child to be home alone?

 

Home is the place where a child should feel protected and safe. But what about those times when a parent can’t be there? If there is no affordable after-school program or sitter available, when is it OK for your child to be home alone?

There is no right answer for every child. But there are ways to evaluate your child’s capabilities and make a more informed decision.

 

Did you know?

  • Nearly 4.5 million children ages 14 and under are injured at home every year
  • The vast majority of accidental injury-related deaths among childre occurs in the evening when children are most likely to be out of school and unsupervised
  • Children are most likely to be victims of violent crimes by non-family members between 2 and 6 p.m.
  • Violent juvenile crime rates triple between 3 and 8 p.m.

 

Review these questions

  • Is your child mature enough to be home alone?
  • Can your child handle fear, loneliness and boredom?
  • Is there a responsible adult nearby – a relative or neighbor – who your child can call for assistance?
  • Does your child know emergency procedures? Have you reviewed fire escape routes? Is there a first aid kit available, and does your child know how to use it?
  • Does your child perform everyday tasks such as fixing a snack, dialing the phone and writing messages?
  • Does your child regularly solve small problems without assistance, knowing it’s OK to ask for help?
  • Are there siblings who will also be home? Does your child manage conflicts with/among siblings without adult help?
  • Is your child comfortable with the idea of staying alone? Ask!

 

Experiment first

If you and your child believe the time is right, try leaving the child alone for short periods to test the results. Call it an “experiment.” Make sure these elements are in place.

  • There should be a basic agreement – a contract of sorts – between you and your child about what is expected when you are away, with clear rules as to what is off limits.
  • Make a thorough check of the home for safety risks – access to kitchen appliances, alcohol, firearms. Remove the risks!
  • Make sure your child has every key necessary to get into the house with a plan for what to do if the keys are lost.
  • All necessary information should be kept by every phone – home address, emergency numbers, your contact info, neighbor’s phone number.

After the trial, discuss your experiment. Did each person feel comfortable?

 

Safety hints

Discuss these situations with your child and be sure that everyone involved is confident that all of these situations could be confronted successfully.

  • You’re home alone and a stranger calls to speak to mom or dad. What do you say?“Mom and dad are very busy. May I have your number so they can call you back when they’re free?” NEVER tell anyone you are home alone.
  • A friend calls and asks you to come to her house since her parents aren’t home either. What should you do?“Mom and I have a rule that I can’t go anywhere without her permission. I’ll be glad to play tomorrow at school.” NEVER invite a friend to your house without parental permission.
  • A younger sibling is holding a can of cleaning product. You aren’t sure if he swallowed some. What do you do?Call the poison control center (the number should be by the phone). Follow their directions exactly and call your parents so they can come home quickly.
  • You are playing in the front yard and a stranger drives by slowly and tries to talk to you. What do you do?Go in the house and lock the door. Look through the window. If the car doesn’t leave, call 911 and tell the operator exactly what happened. Remember the color of the car and what the driver looked like. Remember the license plate number if you can. NEVER talk to a stranger.
  • A friend comes over (with parental permission) and tells you he has something “really cool.” The “cool” thing is a handgun. What do you do?Ask your friend to put the gun down and go together to another room (along with anyone else in the house). Call your parents to come home immediately. If you can’t reach a parent, call 911 and explain the situation. Stay away from the gun and wait for help.
  • You smell smoke or the fire alarm sounds. What should you do? Call 911 and get out of the house. Wait in the front yard or another safe place for firefighters. You and your parents should practice a plan of action until you know it well.

Information provided by Prevent Child Abuse Indiana

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