Home Alone This Summer

Are your kids ready to stay by themselves?

By FamilyTime


These long summer days are challenging for parents. Adults have routines that do not change much with the school vacation and so are faced, from time to time, with leaving the kids at home. Alone.

If your kids are home alone for part of a day, whether it's an occasional situation or a regular one, there are things to bear in mind to make the experience safer and more comfortable for you and your children.

First, and most importantly, make sure your son or daughter is ready to stay alone. Before you go any further, ask him if he minds being by himself or perhaps taking care of younger siblings. If the child is obviously reluctant or says no outright, look into other solutions.

If both you and your child feel the time has come, go over safety rules and set up guidelines. These will make both of you feel better. Keep in mind that states have laws regarding the age when youngsters can be left unsupervised.

Plan Ahead
Post all relevant telephone numbers next to several phones. List your work numbers, cell phone numbers, and pagers. Enlist a reliable neighbor or friend to be on call and list his or her number. Include the numbers for the pediatrician and poison control. Write your home address on the list as well as your home telephone number, if you have a land line.

Go over when it would be appropriate to call 911 and what the children can expect if they do.

Make sure all fire alarms work. Point them out to the kids. In the event of fire, plan at least two escape routes from every room and every floor. Buy a fire ladder, if it makes sense. Install a fire extinguisher in the kitchen (not near the stove) and make sure everyone knows how to use it.

Walk though the kitchen and discuss the danger of the stovetop and oven. Determine if the child can use these. Perhaps you should limit snacks to uncooked ones or those that are heated in the microwave.

Assemble a first-aid kit with bandages, gauze, antibacterial ointment, an icepack, and a few Tylenol and Benedryl. Instruct your kids never to administer the medicine without calling you first.

Put all other medication, poisonous household cleansers, and alcohol in a locked closet or out of sight and reach. Lock up firearms and ammunition in two separate locations.

Check that all your windows and doors have working locks. Point these out to the kids and make sure they know how to secure them.

Make sure your kids know to check the caller id before answering the phone. If they don't recognize the number or name, they should let the call go to voice mail. Equip your kids with cell phones.

Leave an extra key with a neighbor in the event someone gets locked out. Don’t hide keys under mats or flowerpots.

Establish Guidelines
Together with the kids, set up house rules and post them in the kitchen or family room. These might include a chore (fold laundry; unload the dishwasher), a list of acceptable television programs, and reminders to check that all doors are locked.

Make sure the kids

  • Call you or a designated adult when planned
  • Never answer the doorbell
  • Never allow anyone to enter the house they do not know very well
  • Never have friends over
  • Screen calls
  • Do not let a caller know they are home alone
  • Do not cook unless you have approved it
  • Never enter the house if the door is unlocked when they get home

Encourage a Routine
Everyone feels more secure with an established routine. Go over a routine with your kids so that they know what you expect. And then make sure they stick to it.

For instance, after they call you, they might make a snack and sit down to computer games. After this, they could watch television while they fold the laundry. Some parents don’t allow children to go online until they themselves arrive home from work. Others are more lenient.

Keep in Touch
You or your spouse should call the kids at least once after they have checked in to make sure all is well. This also reminds the kids that you are going to check in at unannounced times.

If your plans change even a little (you have to stay late, you stop by the store, you are stuck in traffic), call your child. This way, no one will worry.

It’s crucial to go over daily schedules and transportation. Keep track of when your children are going to a game or a friend’s house.

Finally, talk to your children regularly about how they feel about being alone. Your confident 12-year-old may change her mind after a few weeks, or you may find you are not as comfortable as you thought you would be. Also, states have different laws about how old kids need to be before they are left alone.

As with all things related to child care, be flexible and be prepared to make other plans. Leaning how to manage on their own is an important part of growing up for all children. Approach it with common sense and sensitivity.