Home Alone for the First Time

May 24, 2013

Julie Eldridge teaches pediatric education courses

at Mercy Children's Hospital in St. Louis.

By Julie Eldridge

Staying home alone was forever changed in parents’ minds when the Home Alone movies came out in 90s. And while the issues they faced in those movies were exaggerated, it’s important for your children to know what to do when they’re home alone.

For most parents, the first time you leave your child home alone is a big step. It’s natural to be anxious. You might wonder what age is appropriate, how long is ok and what  your kids should know before you take that step.  

There are really no laws on the books about the correct age. You‘ll need to make a judgment call based on what you know about your child. All kids mature at different paces so consider not only your child’s age but how he responds to various situations. My general recommendation is by age 10 or 11, most kids are ready have a trial run. Keep in mind – just because your child may stay home alone doesn’t mean he’s ready to watch other kids.

When teaching kids about home safety they need to know what to do in different scenarios and have clear-cut rules. Should  he open the door if someone knocks? What if it’s the adult neighbor she knows? Or a delivery man with flowers? Should she answer the phone? What about making snacks using the microwave or oven?

Here are some good tips to keep handy if you’re considering leaving your kids home alone:

  • Identify a contact person nearby who can be reached, if needed.
  • Give kids their own key to keep in their bags or a safe place. (Hidden keys are never safe and if the garage keypad is relied upon, there’s always a chance of power outage.)
  • Leave an extra key with a trusted neighbor who will be home.
  • Always keep the doors locked and don’t open it for anyone.
  • Discuss how to handle phone calls – whether to screen them or just not answer.
  • Review basic first aid and keep an emergency kit in a convenient place.
  • Review what to do in case of an emergency, including how and when to call 9-1-1.
  • Show your child a safe place to go during a thunderstorm, tornado or earthquake.
  • Discuss a fire safety plan – two ways out of every room in case of fire, as well as not using or playing with matches, stoves, appliances or fireplaces.
  • Make a special grab-bag with games, videos or crafts to keep busy.

Finally, remind your children that they must show responsibility be able to stay home alone. It’s a privilege to be earned.

Julie Eldridge is a pediatric educator and teaches safety courses such as Home Alone, Sitter Skills, First Aid Basics and American Heart Association CPR at Mercy Children’s Hospital. For more information, please visit mercychildrens.net.

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