Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leaving Kids Home Alone

Many parents agonize over leaving our kids home alone, even during daylight hours. What’s the right age to let kids stay home alone? How do we prepare them if something goes wrong?

There is no law that determines the appropriate age when parents can leave their children home alone, according to Voorhees Township NJ Police Sergeant Brian Randazzo. He believes that it is up to individual parents to gauge the maturity and comfort level of their children.

“Along with that, parents need to be open to speak with their children about home security,” he suggests. “You don’t want to scare your children, but you do want to make sure they understand how to open the door completely and how to close the door completely; how to turn the deadbolt lock and how to unlock the deadbolt lock. And also, they should talk about who they would let in the house, when they would ever open the door, and play what-if scenarios.”

When choosing to leave your child alone for the first time, Sergeant Randazzo advises parents to start with small increments of time, which they can gradually increase. Ask the child how he felt being left home alone to help determine if he is ready. Be sure to leave a list of phone numbers in a prominent spot where the child knows to fine it. The list should include 911 in case of emergency, a friend or neighbor who lives close-by, and the parents’ cell phone numbers.

It’s also important to establish the rules for staying home alone. That includes things like, can the child go outside or in the basement or must he stay on the first or second level of the house? Can he have friends over? Is he allowed to use the oven or microwave, run the dishwasher or washing machine, and if so, does he know to clean the lint filter to prevent a fire?

The child should always be sure to have a phone close by, and preferably a land line and not a cell phone. If there is an emergency, the first step is to call 911. “When you see someone who doesn’t belong, call the police right away on the emergency 911 number. We would much rather come and verify that it was just the guy who was there to winterize your sprinkler system than to not find the burglar.”

When calling 911 from a regular phone, the address immediately pops up on the police dispatcher’s screen. When using a cell phone, the call may go to a central station which is not necessarily the closest to the home. The child will need to give his address before the dispatcher knows what precinct to pass the call on to.

When calling 911, the child should immediately give his name and address and explain what the emergency is. The dispatcher will usually stay on the line with him until the police arrive. The child should go to a place in the home where he feels most comfortable, and lock himself in that room. Parents should talk to their children in advance about where that spot might be.

Many parents feel that once their child reaches middle school, at about 11 years old, he is ready to be home alone during the day for a couple of hours. For some families, having a younger sibling there also is a positive thing, because the kids can support each other. For others, watching a younger sibling is too much responsibility for an 11 year old. It really depends on the maturity of your kids and how you feel about leaving them home alone. At whatever age you choose, be sure to have discussions about what to do in an emergency.

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