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Make Sure Child Is Ready to Stay Home Alone

by Micky Smith

The hours between the time children get home from school and the time parents return from work can be a challenge. Many school, community, and recreational programs are available for after-school care. However, some parents choose to let their children stay home alone until they return.

If you choose the “home alone” option, first consider your child’s age and maturity level, as well as the safety of the neighborhood or community in which you live. In general, it is best not to leave a child under age 12 years at home alone on a regular basis or for lengthy periods of time. Talk with your child about after-school options; listen to any concerns he may have about arrangements you may consider.

Dr. Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, suggest some safety tips for parents who leave their children alone after school:

*Make your home as safe as possible; use locks and bolts on window and doors. Make sure your home is well lit.

*Teach your child proper safety procedures. Establish a check-in time for your child to call you or another designated adult each afternoon. Tell your child to never go into the house after school if the door has been left open, if a window is broken or if anything else looks unusual. Tell your child to go to a neighbor’s house or store to call you and wait for you there. Teach your child to call 911 if there is an emergency.

*Make a safety kit that includes an identification card, a list of telephone numbers of responsible neighbors as well as numbers where you can be reached.

*Plan activities that will keep your child occupied. Homework, chores and projects are good options.

*Go over specific house rules with your child. Discuss what to do if a stranger comes to the door or if someone calls for you on the telephone. Some house rules may include whether or not friends may come over when no adult is present, or whether your child may go to visit a friend. Are any toys or equipment “off limits” when you are not around? What about cooking?

*Establish a routine that helps your child feel secure and responsible. Decide on a time for homework and for household chores. Make a checklist of the chores your child is expected to do.

*Keep healthy snacks readily available.

*Be punctual. Tell your child when you can be expected to be home; try to be there at that time. Call if you are delayed.

*Be flexible; continually evaluate all aspects of the situation to be sure your child is receiving the best possible care. If something is not working with the after-school arrangement, don’t be afraid to make a change.

For Release: Week of 08/30/04


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