Home Alone: Safety Tips For Your Child

Sooner or later, your children will have to stay home alone. Prepare them in the best possible way to face this situation whenever it arises.

By Anjana Mohan

Home Alone: Safety Tips For Your Child

With changing lifestyles and family structures, it is almost inevitable that, at some point, parents have to leave their child home alone. However, this is something that leaves most parents anxious -- they fear for the child's safety, worry about the lack of adult supervision, and so on. 

The law does not specify an age when a child can be left home alone. But according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a leading charity in the UK that works to protect children and prevent child abuse: "Children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long periods of time; children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight; babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone."

At the same time, being home alone can be a unique and positive experience for children. For, it helps them take a step towards being independent and self-reliant. It also gives them some much-needed freedom and instills a sense of accomplishment. But keep in mind that both you and your child should prepare well in advance for this important day -- to ensure that you feel confident and relaxed, and more important, that your child is ready for the experience.

Here are nine things you should do before you leave your child alone at home:

1. Ask yourself, "Is my child ready?": This is the most important point to consider before leaving your child alone at home. There are no specific ways of determining this, other than a thorough assessment of your child’s capabilities and comfort level. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to understand and assess your child's readiness.

  • Does he express interest in staying home alone or does he seem nervous?
  • Does he handle unexpected situations well?
  • Does he know and understand the basics of first aid?
  • Does he follow the rules you set and use good judgement?
  • Is he capable of doing simple chores, like fixing a snack for himself or, calling someone on the phone?

2. Establish rules and expectations: Rules teach children self-discipline and what is expected of them. To prepare your child to behave responsibly while you leave her home alone, set the ground rules. Make sure that she understands the rules and agrees to follows them. This includes guidelines about computer and TV time, having friends over, what your child can do in the kitchen, when she should open the door and, so on.

3. Come up with an emergency plan: Teach your child what to do in case of an emergency. Establish the exact procedure your child should follow during a crisis, such as someone persistently knocking on the door or a power blackout. A great way to prepare your child is through role-play and repeated drills where you go through different scenarios. You can print out and display the emergency action plan where it will be easily visible to your child.

4. Create a support system: Give your child the phone numbers of all those she can get in touch with, in times of need. If possible, make your child memorise these numbers. The phone numbers should include your contact numbers as well as those of family members and friends who live nearby. It is a good idea to put up a printout of these numbers on the refrigerator, on the doors, and so on. 

5. Have a relative or neighbour check in: If possible, try to have a neighbour or a friend or someone else you trust, act like a guardian and check on your child at least once while you are away. Let both your child and the guardian know about this in advance. You should also set rules about how your child can let the guardian know that he is safe and okay — like not opening the door but coming to the window and waving, or something similar.

6. Call regularly: Schedule a time when you and your child can call each other so you both feel reassured. You will feel less worried, as you can rest assured that everything is okay. Also, this gives you a chance to talk to your child and get an update on how she is doing. Your child will also feel safe, as she knows that you are available to listen to her and help her out.

7. Draw up safety measures: These can vary with the age of your child. However, some common measures that every parent should take are: childproofing the home, turning off the gas, covering all electrical outlets, and keeping items like matchbox, knives, medicines, and car keys out of reach of the child. Also, teach your child kitchen safety tips, basic first aid, and what to do in case of a fire or medical emergency.

8. Create an activity list: Leaving your child alone at home when there is nothing much for her to do can make her feel bored. A bored child can feel restless, anxious and dissatisfied. So, plan activities that your child can engage in while you are away.

9. Food and medicine: Stock the kitchen with food and snacks for your child. As far as possible, try to ensure that your child doesn't have to use the stove or the microwave to prepare food for herself. If you child is on some regular medication, set aside the exact dosage and keep the rest out of her reach.

While these points don't cover all the aspects, following them will certainly put to rest most of your worries about leaving your child home alone. Remember, being home without supervision for the first time is an important milestone in your child's life. Depending on how your child fares, you can adjust the rules and procedures. And help your child grow in confidence and resilience. 

Anjana Mohan, part of Safecity’s #WritersMovement, is a first year undergraduate student of Economics in Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She is interested in the intersections of education and media with economics.

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