Letting your child stay at home alone is a rite of passage that many kids look forward to. It signifies that you trust their judgment and that they know what to do if an emergency arises. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, "it is estimated over 40 percent of children are left home at some time." However, as much as you may trust your child, it's everyone else that you have to worry about when your kid is home alone, which is why leaving children home alone is often scarier for parents than for kids. Here are four tips to help keep your kids safe when they are home alone and to give you some peace of mind:
Protect Your Home From Intruders
No matter how safe your neighborhood is, installing home alarm systems provides a priceless sense of security for both you and your child. Some new alarm systems even have smartphone apps so you can remotely access a live feed to security cameras in and around your home and make sure everything is OK. Be sure to thoroughly explain how the security system works to your child and that they know the alarm code.
Prepare for Any Scenario
Have candid discussions with your kids about how to handle various problems that could arise when home alone. Does your son know what to do if his little sister tries to pick a fight with him? What should your kids do if a neighbor knocks on the door? Are your kids comfortable making a meal for themselves if they're hungry and you are running late? Write down a list of any unusual scenarios that you can think of and review how to handle them with your kids. Make sure to leave a list of important phone numbers in a highly visible spot, such as on the refrigerator, of the following emergency contacts:
- Local police
- Local fire department
- Close neighbors
- Aunts, uncles and cousins who live nearby
- Your mobile number
Secure Any Dangerous Items
KidsHealth.org warns, "no matter how well your child follows rules, be sure to secure anything that could be a health or safety risk." Lock up alcohol and any drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medication that could be abused such as cough syrup and sleep aids. If you smoke, put all cigarettes, lighters and matches away in a safe place so that your curious child isn't tempted to experiment. If you have any guns in your home, those should be unloaded and locked up with the ammunition locked and stored in a separate place.
Clearly Define the Rules & Consequences
Sit down with your kids and have them help you write a list of rules for when they are home alone. By inviting them to actively participate in deciding the rules, they'll be more likely to understand and respect them when you are gone. Explain the consequences of breaking the rules, so your kids know exactly what will happen if they disobey. With open communication and a little preparation, you can help your kids stay safe when home alone.