When school is back in session, it may come as a relief to know exactly where your child is during the workday.
Yet those couple of hours between the last school bell of the day and your return home still must be structured to ensure your child’s safety. When children get a little older, parents are faced with the decision of whether to allow them to stay home alone or have after-school care.
There’s no “magic age” when a child is ready to be home alone. Rather, it’s a matter of maturity, says said Doniese Wilcox, Certified Family Life Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.
Consider past experiences:
- Does your child easily cry under stress?
- Can your child effectively come up with a solution when there’s a problem?
- Has your child displayed good decision-making skills?
- Does your child follow through with responsibilities in general?
“It’s OK to admit that your child may not be ready to stay home alone,” said Wilcox, “but you can practice.”
Try leaving your child at home for an hour. Before parting, remind your child of what to do in case there is an emergency. But don’t put too much emphasis on the negative — you don’t want to scare her!
“Talk about the positives: your child will gain your trust and a bit more freedom with this added responsibility,” said Wilcox.
Safety reigns priority when children are trusted with staying home alone after school, meaning they have a general sense of what to do in case of fire, bad weather, ingestion of harmful substances or strangers roaming around the neighborhood.
“Just because your child is at home doesn’t mean we don’t have to consider possible safety concerns,” Wilcox said. “You want to ensure your child knows how to handle certain situations, which means looking at his or her maturity with an honest perspective.”
“Keep a list of important phone numbers visible on the kitchen fridge and explain to your child when it is appropriate to call each one,” said Wilcox. “For example, calling Poison Control in case a younger sibling drinks a brightly colored liquid cleaner.” Kids should also memorize important numbers in case they have to leave home quickly and call at a safer location.
Practicing what to do in case of fire or bad weather is key. When there’s a fire, explain to your child that it is most important he and his siblings exit the house before calling the fire department whether from his cell phone or at a neighbor’s house. Also, teach your child where to go in case there’s a tornado or severe thunderstorm, such as under a basement stairway.
“It won’t make the circumstances any less scary, but practicing how to handle situations like these will help your child gain confidence in managing the home while mom and dad are still at work,” said Wilcox.
You can learn more about child development and health online.