Facts for Living: Home alone; is my child ready?

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

080714-facts-for-living1Kids will soon be out of school for their summer break. If you work outside the home, you know that finding summer day care can be a real challenge. Or if the children are older, you may wonder if it’s safe to leave them alone – even for short periods of time while you run errands.

There is no “magic age” in deciding whether a child is ready for self-care. Parents must consider several factors, starting with the child’s maturity level. But, as a general guideline, most children before age 11 lack the decision-making skills necessary for self-care.

When assessing your child’s readiness for self-care, consider his or her physical, mental, social, and emotional maturity. Even if your child does seem mature enough for self care, you will also need to think about some other factors: Is your home safe? Is your neighborhood safe? How long would your child be alone each day?

Your own feelings as a parent are also important. Do you feel comfortable with your child staying alone? Are you ready to give your child more independence and freedom? If you are confident that your child will be safe and will make wise choices while home alone, you will feel good about self care.

Talk with your child to see if he feels he is ready to stay at home alone. If you and your child agree that self care is appropriate, you will want to provide your child with necessary information and training. As you teach your child, have him demonstrate that he understands.

Make sure your child knows the following:

  • Important names and telephone numbers. Post a list of important phone numbers, such as your work phone, the number of a nearby relative or neighbor, and 911 by the phone. If your child has his own cell phone, make sure the numbers are in his contact list.
  • Home address. Your child should be able to give directions to the house in case of an emergency. Be sure they understand not to share the information with strangers. You can post directions by the phone.
  • How to answer the phone. Whether you have a landline or not, your child still needs to know to tell callers, “My mom/dad is busy right now. May I take a message?” Your child should never tell a caller that you are not home or that he is home alone.
  • What appliances to use and how to use them. Your child must know which appliances you have approved for her to use while home alone and how to operate them safely.
  • Your schedule. Your child should know where you are and when you will be home, as well as what time.
  • How to check in. Once your child is home, instruct her to telephone you or a specified adult who lives nearly to report that she is safe at home.
  • What to do if someone comes to the door. Your child should use a peek hole to see who is at the door. She should let in only people you have specifically said may come in.
  • How to enter and exit the house. Your child must be able to keep track of his key and be able to lock and unlock doors easily.
  • Where to go for help. Your child needs an adult who lives or works nearby who will help in case of an emergency or lost key.
  • How to handle an emergency. Your child should know what to do in case of a fire, an injury, or bad weather.
  • A back-up plan. You and your child need a back-up plan in case there is a change in the usual routine.
  • How to come home safely. Your child should return home along a route you have approved, and know how to let herself in and lock the door.

McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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