Across the country children are back in the classroom. For many of them, a return to school also means being home alone after school until their parents get home from work. The American Red Cross has steps parents and children can take to help make these after-school hours safer and less stressful.
The first thing parents need to decide is if their child is responsible enough to stay home alone. If not, other options include after-school child care, programs at schools and youth clubs or enrolling the child in youth sports programs. Whether a child is going to stay home alone should depend on the child’s maturity and comfort level. A general rule of thumb is that no child less than eight years of age should be left alone for any extended period of time.
If the child is going to go home after school, it’s a good idea to have them call to check in when they get home. For an older child, set ground rules about whether other kids can come over when the parents are absent, whether cooking is an option, and whether they can leave the home. Other steps parents can take include:
- Post an emergency phone list where the children can see it. Include 9-1-1, the parents’ work and cell numbers, numbers for neighbors, and the numbers for anyone else who is nearby and trusted.
- Practice an emergency plan with the child so they know what to do in case of fire, injury or other emergencies. Write the plan down and make sure the child knows where it is.
- Let children know where the flashlights are. Make sure that the batteries are fresh, and that the child knows how to use them.
- Remove or safely store in locked areas dangerous items like guns, knives, hand tools, power tools, razor blades, scissors, ammunition and other objects that can cause injury.
- Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach of children.
- Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage place or out of the reach of children.
- Install safety covers on all unused electrical outlets.
- Limit any cooking a young child can do. Make sure at least one approved smoke alarm is installed and operating in the kitchen, on each level of the home and in sleeping areas.
- If children have approved access to smart phones or tablets, download the free Red Cross First Aid App so they’ll have instant access to expert advice for everyday emergencies.
- Limit the time the child spends in front of the television or computer. Caution them to not talk about being home alone on public websites. Kids should be cautious about sharing information about their location when using chat rooms or posting on social networks.
SAFETY STEPS FOR CHILDREN
When talking to kids about being at home alone, parents should stress the following steps and post them where the child can see them:
- Lock the doors and if the home has an electronic security system, children should learn how to turn it on and have it on when home alone.
- Never open the door to strangers. Always check before opening the door to anyone, looking out through a peephole or window first.
- Never open the door to delivery people or service representatives. Ask delivery people to leave the package at the door or tell them to come back at another time. Service representatives, such as a TV cable installer, should have an appointment when an adult is home.
- Never tell someone on the telephone that the parents are not at home. Say something like “He or she is busy right now. Can I take a message?”
- Do not talk about being home alone on social media websites. Kids should be cautious about sharing information about their location when using chat rooms or posting on social networks.
- Never leave the house without permission. If it’s okay to go outside, children should tell their parents where they are going, when they are leaving, and when they will return. If mom and dad are still at work, children should call them when they return home.
- Do not go outside to check out an unusual noise. If the noise worries the child, they should call their parents, an adult or the police.
- Don’t talk to strangers.
- Do not have friends over to visit when your parents aren’t at home unless you have permission to do so. Do not let anyone inside who is using drugs or alcohol, even if you know them.
- If the child smells smoke or hears a fire or smoke alarm, they should get outside and ask a neighbor to call the fire department.