Trustworthy children can learn to stay safe when home alone.

How to Teach Children How to Stay Safe When Home Alone

by Freddie Silver

Knowing when your child is ready to be left home alone is challenging. Most states do not stipulate a minimum age, although guidelines usually suggest waiting until at least 10 years of age. The maturity of your child, rather than her age, should be the determining factor. Before you leave your child on her own, you both should feel confident in her ability to handle any circumstance that might arise.

Talk with your child to determine how enthusiastic she is about being left on her own. Some children are eager to take this major step toward independence, while others are reluctant and fearful. Know your child's feelings on the matter.

Know your neighborhood. If you live in a safe area with supportive neighbors, enlist their support. Ensure that your child feels comfortable with someone who lives nearby so she can call, if necessary. Leave the neighbor's contact information clearly marked in a prominent place. She should also have your cell number and understand when it's appropriate to call 911.

Discuss acceptable routines. For example, does she usually complete her homework before watching TV or using the computer? Having parental controls on some channels and blocking Internet sites can help prevent accidental viewing of inappropriate material.

Practice by staying away a short time your first time. Even an absence of five or 10 minutes helps your child build confidence. Gradually increase the time you're absent.

Create rules together with your child. Don't be surprised if she adds sensible ones you were planning to mention. Cover issues such as whether she's allowed to leave the house or whether it's OK to have a friend over.

Tell your child to not tell anyone that she is home alone. Teach her to simply say you are not available if she takes any calls for you.

Review your expectations with your child. Let her know what to do if you're expecting delivery of a package. You both might be more comfortable instructing her to never open the door to anyone.

Teach your child to safely operate the microwave oven before you allow her to use it when she's alone. Leave plenty of healthful snacks and fruits she can eat without needing preparation with sharp knives.

Discuss possible emergency scenarios with your child. Role-playing some of these will help build her confidence. For example, if she has the opportunity to practice calling the neighbor because she hears an unfamiliar sound, she'll be less hesitant to make the call when it's necessary.

Prepare your supplies. You don't want your child to run out of staples such as milk or toilet paper when you're not home. If your child is taking medication, leave out only the required dose. Leave a flashlight with working batteries in case of a power failure and lock away all hazardous materials such as alcohol, drugs or firearms.

Teach your child some basic first aid or enroll her in a course. Much of the material taught at babysitter courses, offered at many community centers for young teens, is applicable for a child preparing to stay home alone.

Establish a routine with your child to call you to check in when she first arrives at home. This lets your child know you are still watching over her and it will help put your mind at ease.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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