The movie “Home Alone” did extremely well as a comedy and continues to bring in licensing revenue as a DVD and download rental. Fortunately, leaving your kids at home on their own is not near as chaotic or adventurous. And it can be good for them to feel a bit responsible on their own for a short time. That said, there are some things one should watch out for or prepare if the kids will be home alone.
Age Matters - First and foremost, make sure the kids are old enough to understand how not to get themselves in trouble and why. Thousands of kids every year get killed due to accidents or having the ability to get into chemicals they shouldn’t be near simply because it’s available. And well over 3.5 million end up in the emergency room due to serious injuries for burns, cuts, falling down, and other injuries that can easily happen in the home. That said, generation after generation has had kids at home on their own without any issue. Many of us remember being “latchkey” kids, coming home early on our own after school and before a parent showed up after work. The earliest age generally tried is 10 but really kids aren’t fully self-sufficient until closer to 12 and 13. It’s better off to have a professional babysitter for kids who are significantly younger.
Use Technology - 40 years ago when latchkey kids were common, there were no home security cameras. Today, the technology is cheap, easy to install and readily available. So take advantage of it and be able to see the kids at home and what’s going on from anywhere you have a connection to the Internet and a computer. Some packages even work with phone apps. You can see what’s going on, check on them regularly, and react far faster than waiting for them to call and say there’s a problem.
Make a Smart Home - Kids forget things, and sometimes that includes the means to get inside the home and be secure. With remote automation, this is no longer a problem or risk. Instead, you can easily let them inside the home or make sure it’s secure after they have left in case a door or window is left open accidentally. A smart home literally gives you control of everything connected to the smart home system.
Combine Information - Give your kids checklists to follow. This is a good way of reinforcing what you expect them to take care of when home alone as well as what to check. The checklist can be a combination of safety information, chores to address, and items to check before locking the house when leaving. You can also spell out clearly what’s allowed and what’s not when you’re gone.
Secure the Risks Ahead of Time - Don’t leave dangerous stuff sitting around for easy access, and a high cupboard needing a step-ladder doesn’t cut it. This includes handguns and rifles, dangerous medicines and control substances, alcohol, knives, and anything explosive or acidic. Keep it locked and if possible, hidden from a child’s knowledge. The less they know about dangerous items in the home, the less likely they are to want to do something with it.
Build Awareness - Teach your child basic first aid in case something does happen. This includes:
- How to clean a wound
- Where to find antiseptic and antibiotics
- How to treat a burn
- How to dial 911 or contact a local emergency resource if needed right away
- Which neighbors immediately near your home should be contacted if help is needed
- Emergency phone numbers and how to dial them
- Have a backup plan your kids are aware of in case you can't make it back home timely
Practice these steps and you will ensure your child has working knowledge in case something does go wrong. If your home is out in a fairly rural area, think about what your child will need to make contact with help in such situations. Radios and knowing how to operate them are always good prevention steps. If something is wrong inside the home, make sure your child knows how to get outside quickly and safely. If you have a two-story house, buy an escape ladder and help your kids practice with it so they know how to operate the ladder out a window if the normal hallway is blocked.
Being home alone can be a great way for a child to learn responsibility and self-care, but good prevention steps also make it safer and a positive experience.