Busy parents eagerly anticipate the day when their children can be trusted to stay safe on their own. It frees parents up to stay a little longer at work, head to an appointment or go for dinner. But when is a good time to start leaving your child home alone? Ultimately the decision comes down to when you think your child is ready for this responsibility.
What to consider:
• Does your child want to stay home alone? Does he or she feel confident or fearful? A little bit of anxiety is healthy, but if your child is terrified, wait awhile. For more on anxiety reduction, click here.
• Is your child mature enough to know how to deal with an emergency? Can he or she make decisions quickly without panicking?
• Does your child show responsibility with chores and homework?
• Does your child follow rules well?
• Does your child understand and follow safety precautions?
• Is your child a risk taker, impulsive or unpredictable?
• Do you have friends and neighbours nearby that you and your child trust in case of emergency?
• Is there a lot of crime in your neighbourhood?
• Does your child know basic first aid?
One strategy is to try a practice run, where your child is home alone or thinks he is, and you are actually home and making sure all goes as planned. Or you can watch from outside or from a friend or neighbour's home. The trial can be as long as you'd like -- even 30-60 minutes can give you an idea of likely problems. After the trial, discuss how it went, and troubleshoot any problems and concerns your child has.
Before you leave your child home alone, ensure your child knows:
• Basic first aid and CPR skills, as a precaution. You never know what might happen.
• How to put out a small fire
• What to do if a stranger comes to the door
• How to call 911 and when to do so
• How to work the home security system if you have one and keep doors locked
• How to reach you by phone
• How to use the microwave or other simple cooking appliances
• What to do in case of a power outage
• What to say if someone calls asking for the parent
On the big day:
• Schedule a time to chat when you are out of the home. Make sure your child knows he or she can call you anytime. A regular check in time may relieve both your anxieties.
• Set rules for who is allowed over, computer and TV limitations, what to say if someone comes to the door or calls and what to use, and not use in the kitchen (e.g. oven, knives, etc.)
• Leave flashlights around in case of a power outage
• Leave easy to cook food and snacks
• Leave a list of contacts for your child in case they are uneasy or need help
• Ensure there is no access to alcohol or firearms
• Lock all medications away
• Remove or hide car keys, lighters and matches
Now that you are prepared, you can feel more confident leaving your child on his or her own at home. The world is your oyster!
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