For working parents, the day your kids are old enough to start going to school can bring so many advantages, like no longer needing to pay for a full day of child care and knowing that your child is spending his/her days learning productively. But in millions of homes across the country, those few hours between school release and the end of your workday can create a problem. In some families, the kids are old enough and mature enough to be home alone until their parents get back from work. For others, the kids are supervised by a babysitter, grandparent, or other adult, while other families fill the time gap with after-school programs. Whichever choice works for you, there are steps you can take to make sure your kids are safe and out of trouble.
For Kids Who are Home Alone
- Make sure your child is actually old enough to stay home alone (or to take of his/her younger siblings alone). The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that most kids can stay home alone by age 11 or 12, but it’s all dependent on your child’s own maturity level and behavioral health. If you think your child is ready, it’s a good idea to start with very short periods (like a run to the grocery store) and gradually increase the time they can be home alone.
- Only allow your kids to be home alone for about three hours or less.
- Consider whether your neighborhood is one where your kids will be safe and will be around other supportive adults before allowing them to be home alone.
- Have a list of emergency phone numbers next to every phone in the house – your cell phone, your work number, 911, the local police department, poison control, etc. Make sure you child knows when to use them.
- Tell your kids to never tell anyone they’re home alone. If they’re allowed to answer the phone, make sure they say “Mom/Dad is in the shower” or “Mom/Dad is busy right now,” rather than telling people you’re not home. This also goes for any communication online.
- Have a well-stocked first aid Make sure your kids know where it is and how to use all the supplies.
- Plan several ways to escape your home in the case of a fire or other emergency, and practice them with your kids so they know all the possible routes.
- In the case of a power outage, make sure you have several flashlights available with spare batteries.
- Teach your kids how to shut off the water valves on all toilets and sinks in the case of a leak or overflow.
- Set specific limits on whether your kids can cook and what appliances they can and cannot use while home alone. Even if your children aren’t allowed to cook, teach them how to put out a cooking fire.
- Make sure your kids know their names, addresses, pediatricians’ names, and parents’ phone numbers.
- Have a family meeting, establish rules your kids must follow, and post these rules on the refrigerator or in another prominent place.
- Require that your kids call you when they get home so you know they’re safe.
- Have several nearby adults that your kids can call if they need help, like grandparents, neighbors, friends, etc. – adults you trust. Post their phone numbers near each phone as well.
- To keep your kids from having so much free time that they’re tempted to get into trouble, give them jobs to do before you get home from work, like doing their homework or completing certain chores.
- If you have an older child that will be watching younger siblings, consider enrolling him/her in a babysitting course.
For Kids Who Have After-School Childcare
- If your kids go to a babysitter’s home (or a friend or family member’s home), make sure the home is safely
- Check the babysitter’s credentials and make sure they know how to handle emergency situations.
- Just as you would if your kids were home alone, provide the babysitter with all the contact information he/she needs in the case of a minor or major problem, like emergency services, all your phone numbers, nearby adults you trust, etc.
- If you’re using a new babysitter, consider setting up time for you, the sitter, and your kids to spend time together so you can see how the sitter interacts with the kids and so the kids can become comfortable with the sitter.
For Kids Who Attend After-School Programs
- Take your kids’ interests into account and look for programs that will be both fun and useful for their healthy child development, so they’re not tempted to “play hookie.”
- Thoroughly investigate the programs before signing up your kids. Make sure you’re comfortable with the activities your kids will be doing and with the adults who will be caring for them.
- If the program doesn’t take place at your child’s school, make sure you have a safe transportation plan in place.
As a parent, of course you want your kids to be safe and secure at all hours of the day whether you’re with them or not. This is absolutely possible regardless of whether your kids spend their after-school hours in a special program, in childcare, or home alone as long as you take the right precautions. For more advice on keeping your kids safe after school or for any other health and safety questions you may have, contact Children’s Wellness Center and our friendly and knowledgeable staff will be happy to help. To keep up with our future blogs and more, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.