At Home Alone
- Posted by:
- Michael Grose
The decision to leave one or more children at home alone is a serious one that needs to be addressed by everyone involved. As parents, we need to work with our children to help them gain the skills and knowledge they need to stay safe.
Catherine Gerhardt wrote about this subject in the latest issue of our Parentingideas magazine
. I've reproduced here on my blog. Enjoy!
School holidays are just around the corner, and all those jobs we tend to get done while the kids are sitting in the classroom will soon come to an end.
Over the holidays many parents are faced with the dilemma: do I drag an unwilling child to the shops and around on errands, or is she really okay to stay at home alone as she is requesting?
On the other hand, it is up to each child to decide if they feel safe and confident about being at home alone. It is a mutual choice: both parents and children have to be in agreement that the latter are willing and capable of being at home alone.
There is no actual law that states at what age children can be left alone, but the law is clear about the responsibility of parents to look after their children.
Give your children the skills they need to stay safe
Although a child of 12 may appear to be as mature as on older child they still only have twelve years of life experience to draw on when faced with a challenge, especially an emergency. One of the most effective ways we can educate children in safe practices is through role play and scenarios.
Practicing how to respond to an emergency situation leaves the child with an imprint in their mind they can draw from in the future. Conversations around “What can you do if a fire breaks out in the kitchen?” or “What will you do if someone is at the door?” are great places to start. A child armed with knowledge has a reference point to draw from, and will almost always be able to make safer decisions.
Rights and Responsibilities
When a parent and child have come to the decision that the child will begin to stay at home alone, the next step is to make sure everyone understands their rights and responsibilities. A child has the right to decide whether they want to be left at home alone on any particular occasion, and to know that if they are not comfortable, they will not be put in that situation.
Convenience should never be part of the decision process. Ensure your child knows what is expected of them, say, if their friend invites them over to the park after school.
Provide a safe and supervised environment
Children also have the right to be left in a safe environment and this includes locks on doors and windows, and telephone access with contact numbers. It is the child’s responsibility to know and follow the rules set out and know the escape plan in case of a fire. Parents need to discuss with their children what reasonable expectations and rules should be put in place, and to limit the amount of time the child is at home alone.
Leave behind a written list of duties and to make sure that they can be reached by the child. An alternate contact person is recommended in case of an emergency. It is worth asking your child “What would you do if I was late getting home or you could not get a hold of me and you were worried?” Work through possible solutions and strategies which add to their knowledge base and extend their problem solving skills.
Talk safe practices
It is the choices people make that will determine if they will be safe or not. Our decision process changes and develops with every experience we have throughout our lives. Work with your children to teach them to make safe choices when faced with a stressful or confusing new situation. It is beneficial for children to understand that there may be several choices available to them that will result in the same outcome.
Say the child is at home alone during a wind storm, the power goes out and you are late getting home due to traffic congestion – what is the safest response in this situation? Would you expect them to wait it out until you get home, or would you tell them to walk over to a neighbour? (Remember they need to leave you a note to let you know where they have gone).
Responding to emergencies
The definition of an emergency is simply an incident that needs attention immediately. Emergencies can cause people to panic and not think clearly, and past experience can help set us into a ‘safe response’ mode. Let children know that there are several people they can ring in the event of an emergency.
Children can go to many different people in the case of an emergency – deciding who and when depends on the type of emergency. For instance, calling 000 is for emergencies that are life threatening or need immediate attention. Calling on neighbours, the local police and nearby family members are an option as well. Who can your child go to when the power goes out or they miss the school bus? Medical emergencies can be very frightening, so it might worth enrolling them in a first aid for kids program to increase peace of mind for both of you.
It is a huge step to leave your child at home alone, but taking the time to teach them how to stay safe, with and without you present, will help you and your child with the transition to becoming a safe and responsible young adult.
You can find read more from Catherine Gerhardt and find out about her programs at kidproofsafety.com.au
. She's also in Issue 7 of Parentingideas Magazine
- alone, child, home, kidsafe, safety