NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Safe While Home Alone

Safe While Home Alone

When you're ready to leave your child home alone for the first time, a few questions can ensure success for both you and your child.

How young is too young? It's obvious that a 5-year-old can't go it alone but that a 16-year-old probably can. But what about those school-aged kids in the middle? It can be difficult to know when kids are ready to handle being home alone.  Child and youth supervision guidelines provided by the North Dakota Department of Human Services are well researched and respected as a starting point for having a child stay home alone.

The guidelines affirm that children 8 years and under should be supervised at all times with a caregiver available. An 8 year old should not be left in charge of other children. In other words, never home alone.  Children who are 9 years old should not be left unsupervised for periods greater than two hours during the daytime. A child of this age should not be unsupervised during sleeping hours. Children this age should not be responsible for younger children.

Continuing with the ND guidelines, children who are the age of 12 years and older may be permitted to act as baby-sitters. It is recommended that they successfully complete an approved child care training course. Children under 15 years of age should be attended overnight.

Age isn’t the only factor to consider in how leaving a child home alone. It's also important to consider how your child handles various situations. Here are a few questions to think about:

•Does your child show signs of responsibility with things like homework, household chores, and following directions?

•How does your child handle unexpected situations? How calm does your child stay when things don't go as planned?

•Does your child understand and follow rules?

•Can your child understand and follow safety measures?

•Does your child make good judgments or is he or she prone to taking risks?

•Does your child know basic first-aid procedures?

•Does your child follow your instructions about staying away from strangers?

You'll want to know how your child feels about the idea, of course. But kids often insist that they'll be fine long before parents feel comfortable with it. And then there are older kids who seem afraid even when you're pretty confident that they'd be just fine. What can you do make the situation work well for everyone?

- Post a list of emergency numbers including family members, trusted friends and neighbors, and emergency personnel.

- Make sure your child knows his/her phone number and address. Write these on the list of important numbers. It is very easy for anyone, especially a child, to panic in an emergency and lose focus on something they know well – such as your work phone number.  If included on the list, your child can easily read aloud to a 911 operator in case of emergency.

- Keep a first aid kit in the house. Teach your child basic first aid.

- Make sure there are working smoke detectors on every floor of the house and teach your child what to do in case of fire. Practice fire evacuation routes with your children.

- Keep a flashlight and batteries in an easily accessible place in case of power outage. Show your child where to find it.

- Make sure that your child has a way to contact you when you are away from the home, including a cell phone and/or work number. Check your messages often and promptly return your child’s calls.

- Limit the kind of cooking that can be done absent adult supervision.

- Use caller id or an answering machine to screen calls. Have your child tell callers their mom/dad is busy and will call them back.

- Keep all doors and windows locked.

- Practice saying no to peer pressure if friends encourage the child to break rules in your absence?

As you child stays home alone more often, look for what has gone right and praise your child for doing a good job.  Reevaluate how the arrangement is working occasionally and adjust rules accordingly. You may be pleasantly surprised at how readily and how well your child assumes responsibility when fully prepared and given the opportunity



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