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by Brittney Schrick - June 24, 2016
Is your child ready to stay home alone? One way to decide and to prepare them is to
discuss emergencies and "what if" scenarios. Does your child know what to do if someone
rings the doorbell? If there is a fire? If the power goes out? If they injure themselves?
While you can't discuss or cover every possible thing that could ever go wrong, you
should cover likely (and unlikely but dangerous) emergency situations with your child
before they are allowed to stay home alone. Even if none of these things ever happen,
it is always better to be prepared.
One of the major differences between leaving a child home alone today and leaving
a child home alone even as recently as 5 years ago is the increase in "cellphone only
homes." Over 55% of children live in homes that do not have a landline telephone.
In general, this change is minor when we think about the day-to-day workings of a
family, but when leaving a child home alone, their access to a working telephone is
of crucial importance to their safety. Older children may have their own cellphone,
but younger children often do not. So, if your child is one who does not have her/his
own phone, what can you do to allow them to stay home when you have no landline?
If you have reliable internet access, an iPod, iPad, other tablet, or home computer
will often have options such as FaceTime, Skype, or similar apps or options, so these
might be a possibility for short periods. Home alarms generally have a way of contacting
police or fire in emergencies; however, many families do not have these services available.
If your child does not have access to a reliable form of communication, it is not
advisable to leave them at home alone. If you think you will leave your child home
alone regularly and you do not currently have a landline telephone it may be worthwhile
to install one. Typically, a simple landline that isn't used for long distance can
cost as little as $5 per month, and many communities have programs to help low-income
families with utilities such as phone service. Another option is to get your child
a mobile phone to use to stay in touch with you while they are alone. Your choice
will differ depending on your circumstances, but the importance of having reliable
communication cannot be overstated.
Telephone Safety: Whether you have a landline, a cell phone, or an internet-based phone, it is important
to teach your child how to interact with people on the phone, how to make outgoing
calls, and how to responsibly answer the phone. Because our society currently relies
so heavily on text-based communication, many children do not know how to respectfully
answer a phone call, dial a telephone, call 911, or look for a phone number.
Emergency preparedness is important for all children and families, regardless of whether
or not a child stays home alone. Understanding basic safety rules, emergency responses,
and first aid are helpful throughout life, and they give children a sense of self-confidence
that is invaluable.
Visitor Safety: Many families instruct children to avoid answering the door when home alone. You
will need to decide what rules to place on your child depending on your housing situation,
your child's maturity and age, and your comfort with your child answering the door
in your absence. For example, if you have a buzzer and intercom system you may need
to treat that differently than a home that has a peephole or window.
Crisis or Emergency Situations: It is important to prepare children to respond effectively in a crisis or emergency
situation. Practicing drills or giving written instructions may help a child remain
calm if something unexpected should happen. Some examples your child should be prepared
There is a lot to think about when preparing a child to stay alone. Even if they will
only be alone for 30 minutes, understanding what to do in an emergency builds confidence
and skill that lasts a lifetime.
Home Alone: Are They Ready?
Red Cross Home Alone Guidelines for Kids