NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Summer is the Perfect Time to Practice Home-Alone skills

home alone, home alone skills

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

If you’re thinking about having your children go home alone after school in the fall, start now to teach skills, define rules and encourage them to be in charge while you’re nearby.

North Dakota guidelines for children staying at home alone allow 9-year-olds to take on this responsibility for up to two hours during daylight hours, but there is much more to this important decision than age alone.

Are your children prepared for the many situations that may arise? Are they mature enough? Would they know what to do if they came home after school and the door was unlocked? Are they emotionally ready? Will they be too frightened to stay home alone?

Also, consider children’s physical and cognitive abilities. Are they able to think on their feet if a pet gets out of the house? Can they safely reach the microwave to heat a snack? Think about the location of the home and proximity to a trusted adult who could help if your children were in trouble.

According to ParentsLead.org, children must be able to get home from school safely; use keys, or a code to get in the door and lock it once inside; know their full name, phone number and address in case of emergency; have access to and know how to use the phone; and know when and how to call 911 or a trusted adult for help. Do they know how to safely make a snack, do homework on their own, follow simple rules, do basic first aid and understand how to tell time?

Encourage your children to discuss their feelings about being home alone. If they are afraid, talk about it, practice being away for only 10-15 minutes at a time and be open to making care arrangements if your children are not ready to stay home alone without fear.

Establish rules. This avoids confusion about what you expect and adds to the children’s sense of security. Consider how they will check in with a parent when they arrive home after school. Can the parent take a call at work? Are the children allowed to use the internet, video games and movies? Discuss food, chores, friends, appliances, activities and other possible scenarios, and write out responses.

Have your children practice being in charge while you are outside in the yard or taking a nap. When you and your children feel confident, start by running errands close by and work up to a two-hour time frame. Review the home-alone time each time you return so you can address any issues and make a plan for the next time.

Remember, the ultimate responsibility for the safety, care, well-being and behavior of your children remains with you: the parent or caregiver, whether you are there to personally supervise or not. For additional information, see the N.D. Department of Human Services and Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota brochure “Home Alone: Is Your Child Ready?” at www.nd.gov/dhs/info/pubs/family.html. Copies of this brochure are also available at the NDSU Extension Office.

Source: Kim Bushaw, NDSU family science specialist, 701-231-7450, kim.bushaw@ndsu.edu

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