In today’s society where both parents may have to work outside the home, it is common for children to have to be home by themselves.
This may be just for an hour or two after school or it could be for an extended amount of time during summers and school holidays.
There are many things that you can teach your child so they are safe when they are home alone.
This primer covers the most common dangers and potential problems that can come up when they are by themselves.
Along with teaching your children the suggested guidelines for being home alone, there are some items you can purchase for your home that increase security such as home security systems, motion sensor lights, hidden cameras and much more.
Below we have listed 7 rules that your child should follow if they are going to be by themselves at home. Even a young child of 5 can understand these rules although it is not recommended to have a child that young home by themselves. There are many afterschool programs that are available for very young children.
We’ve also provided a checklist for parents that can help them remember what is important to take into consideration and make provisions for when a child is going to be alone for any length of time. The information in this article is to give parents the power and understanding of how to keep their children safe, even if they have to be alone at home.
1. Never Tell Anyone, Even Their Friends That They will be Home by Themselves
It’s important to teach your child that there are some things that no one else needs to know and the fact that they are home alone or that they will be home alone tops the list. They shouldn’t even talk about it online or their cell phone.
You never know when someone may overhear an innocent conversation between your child and a friend that they will be home by themselves. Make sure they know that if they are going to be home alone that is just between you and them. (And a grandmother or relative if you have someone else check on them during their alone time)
2. As Soon As They Get Home From School, Lock The Door and Check in With a Parent
One of the most important tasks they should have when they get home from school is calling a parent or grandparent to let them know that they are home and that they have locked the door behind them.
If you have a cordless phone with several handsets, they can keep one of the handsets with them at all times in case you need to reach them.
There is nothing more unnerving to a parent than trying to call their child and hearing nothing but ringing on the other end. To make the check-in process simple, have your phone number on the refrigerator.
Take the time to teach your children to dial the whole number correctly and how to use the cordless phone or their cell phone if they have one. This prevents them from relying on speed dial and will help them actually learn the number.
3. Do Not Open the Door for Anyone, Even Friends
Make sure that your children understand the importance of never answering the door if someone knocks on it. This is a big safety guideline and one that is extremely important. Give the child instructions on what they should do in the event they are home alone and someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell.
Fortunately, in this age of technology, it is possible for the parent to monitor who is on their front or back porch knocking at the door and they can answer the door from wherever they are via an intercom. The child won’t have to get anywhere near the door.
If you don’t have this capability, instruct the child to give you (or another approved adult) if someone knocks at the door. You won’t have them answer it from somewhere else, but you can provide additional support in helping them remember it is not okay to answer the door when no one else is home…ever.
4. No Cooking, not Even in the Microwave
Children are usually hungry when they get home from school, but a child cooking unsupervised is not a safe situation.
Even microwaves can be set wrong (30 minutes instead of 30 seconds, for example) and burn whatever they are trying to cook.
Keep a variety of snacks on hand that they are allowed to have that require no cooking or using sharp implements. Crackers, bananas, pretzels, pudding cups, homemade yogurt, (already made) peanut butter sandwich and items of this nature are all snacks that can be pre-made and left in the fridge for when they get home in plastic storage containers that have been labeled.
5. No Rough-Housing or Wild Play
If you have multiple children that are staying home alone, they need to understand that this is not the time to try out cardboard box surfing down the stairs.
The time between when they get home and when a parent gets home should be time that is spent doing homework, watching television (approved shows) or reading. It’s very easy for rough play to get out of hand and for someone to get hurt.
It is recommended that getting on Facebook, their cell phones or Xbox during this time be restricted until a parent is around to supervise.
It is very easy for a child to slip up and let someone know on social media or the phone, that they are home alone.
This is a great time for board games or drawing/coloring so make sure to have these things available for them to play with if their homework is done.
6. Don’t Go Outside Without a Parent Home
All kinds of things can happen when a child is playing by themselves outside. They can get into trouble, get caught up with the wrong friends, and this is just the beginning. It is recommended that the children not be allowed to go outside when parents are not home.
This can prevent accidental lockouts, unwanted attention from strangers, accidents and other issues that can occur when a child is unsupervised. If you want your child to be able to play outside after school, it is better to have them under the supervision of a trusted neighbor or babysitter. Make sure the child knows that they are to play at the trusted neighbor’s house and must listen to them so they don’t think they can ignore the adult neighbor if they choose.
7. Have an Emergency Plan in Place That the Child Knows by Heart
Even in the best of situations, emergencies can happen. Your child needs to know exactly what to do in the event of an emergency.
This includes knowing what to do if the smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector goes off when the child is home alone. There needs to be a trusted neighbor or friend that lives close by that the child can go to if they need to get out of their home for any reason.
Your emergency plan needs to cover things like what to do if there is a fire, what to do if they get injured or any other situation that is normally handled by an adult. Write the emergency plan down including a fire evacuation route so the child knows what to do. Don’t forget to practice their plan and make sure they know what to do inside and out, without fail.
Many parents think it is overkill teaching children these things, but the statistics show that there are hundreds of thousands of injuries, accidents and deaths that happen to kids each year that could have been prevented.
With so many of these occurrences being preventable, it is important for a parent to realize HOW to prevent them and that is through educating the child on exactly what they are supposed to do in certain situations, even if an adult or parent is not around.
Teaching your children the seven very important guidelines above will help them learn to deal with emergencies, should any occur in the parents’ absence. It also brings peace of mind to the parent to know their children know what to do should an emergency arise. It is also important to know that the child knows exactly how they should behave if they are home alone.
Below we have provided parents with a checklist that helps ensure you’ve thought of the necessary safeguards for having your child or children home alone.
- Make sure that a list of all emergency numbers the child could need are on the refrigerator and on a list next to each phone. This is especially important if you have a cordless phone with multiple handsets around the house. The list should be easy to find next to each handset charger and be easy to read.
- Pre-make all the children’s snack foods that they are allowed to have when they are home alone. Make sure that they will not have to use any sharp cutting utensils or any cooking devices such as microwaves, stoves, or even toaster ovens. Snacks like yogurt, pudding, bananas, pretzels, etc. are all excellent choices and can be kept in the refrigerator.
- Have plenty of board games, coloring books and other things on hand for the children to play while they are alone. This is especially true if there are two or more siblings home together.
- Pre-arrange with a trusted neighbor, friend or family member that lives in close proximity to your home that your child can go there in the event of an emergency.
- If you want to allow your child to play outside, it is best to have the child go straight to the trusted person’s house and play under their supervision. A child playing outside alone is never a good idea.
- Outfit your home with a good security system. There are also smart locks, smart doorbells and home security that can increase the safety of your family even when you aren’t there. Also make sure that you have good motion sensor lights around the home so the house isn’t dark at night.
- Keep all guns, alcohol, medications, and dangerous chemicals far out of reach of children. This applies even if you are home of course, but a bored child can very easily get into things that can be very dangerous. These items should be kept under lock and keep if the child is home alone. This doesn’t change as the child gets older.
Safety Precaution is Protective but not OVER-Protective
Many parents are too worried about a child’s privacy to step in and check things out where and when they should. This is especially prevalent for a child who may be home alone after school and/or while the parent is working. By trying too hard to be your child’s friend, you could actually be doing more harm than good.
These rules and guidelines may not be the most popular rules you’ve set down, but they are rules and guidelines that will keep them safe.
It will also let them know that you are not too busy to pay attention and care about what they do and where they are and that there is stability and safety in their home.
It is very important for your child or children to know that while you may not be home when they get out of school or at night while you are working, you are still in control, still supervising what they do and still make the rules.
Stay on top of things to make sure that your child knows what to do and is actually doing it. There are definite correlations between lack of parental control and behavior problems as well as bad choices that are much easier to make when they feel no one is paying attention.
This doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, but what it does mean is that you must set the guidelines for your child that you want and expect them to follow and even if it is tough, you have to follow up and make sure those guidelines and rules are being followed.
If a child knows they are being supervised, even from afar with things like the smart doorbell, a nanny cam or even a surveillance camera that is installed for the outside of the home, they are more likely to abide by those rules.
This is not about spying on your children. When you make the rules and expectations known from the beginning, checking their social media channels, knowing passwords and paying attention to where they are and who they are with becomes second nature to them. They may balk at it occasionally, but that just lets you know you’re doing it right!