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Part Four: Home Alone After School – Is Your Child Ready for the Keys?

Fifty years ago, dad went off to work while mom got the kids off to school. Moms were also there when the kids returned home. Nowadays, in many families, both parents must work. Consequently, many children are caring for themselves, at least for a few hours before and/or after school.

As the school year gets underway nationwide, it is important for parents to ask themselves: Is my child ready to be left home alone?

Qualities like maturity, awareness and quick-thinking skills all come into play when making such a decision. It is important to assess how much a child is capable of handling when on his/her own; the answer is different for every child.

Once the decision is made to leave your child home alone, it is important to thoroughly discuss safety Do’s and Don’ts, even if you live in a seemingly quiet, “safe” neighborhood. Reviewing the following safety tips will help protect your kids when you are not around.

  1. Discuss house rules, expectations, and the daily routine – rules for homework, chores, having friends over, use of appliances, etc.
  2. Make sure your child checks the home for open doors or broken windows before entering. Remind your child to lock all doors after entering the house and to call you when he/she arrives.
  3. Prepare communication cards with phone numbers and addresses of relatives and friends, and emergency personnel to call in case of an emergency. Leave this by the phone.
  4. Discuss potential emergencies, the best way to handle the situation, and when they should call 9-1-1.
  5. Remind your child to never tell anyone that he/she will be home alone, and don’t open the door or pick up the phone for anyone they don’t know.
  6. Practice fire and tornado drills.
  7. Teach your child first aid.
  8. Set limits for internet activities. Be aware of what your kids are doing, what sites they visit, who they are meeting online, and what information they are sharing. Sharing too much personal information can lead to identity theft, robbery / break-in, etc.

Once you have discussed these tips with your child, play the “what if” game in a non-fearful manner to not only help instill these safety strategies, but to boost their confidence and yours.

There are additional considerations when the child is responsible for siblings. Even if your child can arrive home from school and be alone, it does not mean that they are ready to babysit younger siblings. This requires another level of preparation and maturity, babysitting courses, and knowing emergency first aid measures and CPR.

Being home alone no matter how briefly, is a big responsibility for a child. It is important that he/she is well-prepared and emotionally ready. If your child is not confident about being left alone, seek alternative solutions.

Mark Bello has practiced law for 40 years. He is currently the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company, and the author of the two legal thriller novels, Betrayal of Faith and Betrayal of Justice (books available on major online book store sites).

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