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You’re SAFE! Teaching Children Safety Techniques For Staying Home Alone:

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

More “temperate” climates and a crisper scent in the air (not to mention increased rush hour traffic and the site of school buses) leaves no doubt that fall is officially in the air. That means moms and dads going back to work, and kids going back to school. It also means a change in the family dynamic. From camp to stay to visits with family members, and/or stay-at-home parents, for nearly three months, many children have had the luxury of adult supervision 24-7. Now, with things (slowly but surely) getting back to normal, many households will be faced with the kids getting home before mom and dad.

Besides behavioral concerns, or apprehensions about homework, most parents’ primary worry revolves around the safety of their children, especially while they are home alone. That’s precisely why experts emphasize the need to educate children on the protocol for protection within their own home. And, they note that it’s imperative to make your child feel comfortable with the situation and during the time they are unsupervised.

Professionals point out that a good place to start is by gaining and giving (your child or children) confidence about their safety and security. Contact a local security professional and discuss existing or necessary precautions. Make sure you have adequate locks on doors and windows, as well as a reliable alarm system. Also ask him of her to point out any other areas that may need attention such as fragile doors, frames, and even overgrown shrubs (making it easy for intruders to hide in). Devices such as wide-angle door viewers installed at your child’s eye level should be among key recommendations and considerations.

Keys should also be among parents’ key concerns. Not only should you make sure your child has a key to the house, but also understands how to use it, and how important it is look around (carefully) before opening the door, and NEVER leaving his/her key anywhere or with anyone. If you want to really play it safe and can afford it you may want to look into keyless entry for your home, and make sure your child NEVER gives out the code.

Experts further remind parents to NEVER attach your child’s name or address to the key. If they lose or misplace the key, make sure they know to contact you, a close-by family member, friend, or trusted neighbor immediately.

Professionals point out that it’s also important to instill good practices in children, especially with regards to being aware of their surroundings. They suggest taking your child/children on a “tour” of the house and the surrounding area. Make sure they are familiar with all points of possible entry, how to lock and unlock all doors, windows, garage, etc., and how to check for potential signs of forced entry or a possible intruder….but make sure not to frighten them or cause them undue stress or distress about being home alone. Teach them to conduct a perimeter “investigation” prior to entering the house, then immediately locking the door behind them.

Advise them to Never answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number, and it you don’t already have a phone with caller ID, you may want to invest in one. Also, implement a certain “code” to call or contact them in case of emergency. Have a specific number for emergency use only. Or tell you child that you’ll call once, hand up and call again, especially if it’s from a number they may not recognize. Inform all trusted friends and relatives to contact YOU before paying you child a visit, this way you can let your child know, to let you and your child know the day (or night) before, or to call him/her from a recognizable location and number….or leave a message and have your child call THEM back. Mature children (who may be expecting calls from friends) may be allowed to answer the phone, but teach them to never implicate that they are home alone, or disclose ANY important or relevant information. And, encourage your child to immediately report any questionable or frightening calls to you, a close by and trusted family member, friend, or neighbor, or to dial 911.

Doors should NEVER be opened (unless your child NEEDS to get outside or is expecting someone who has phoned in advance). You may even want to prepare of list of those they may let in, especially with advance notice. Advise you child to confirm the visitor prior to opening the door by looking through the door viewer (or a window which won’t make it obvious that they are looking). If someone he/she doesn’t recognize persists, won’t go away, or tries to force an entry, instruct your child to immediately call 911.

Having said and done all that you can in order to educate and protect your child, experts agree that the fundamental responsibility continues to be on YOUR shoulders. You and your spouse must feel confident about your decision, your child’s maturity and his/her ability to understand and follow rules (especially those of safety and security). You must also share certainty that the environment you are leaving your child alone in is conducive to keeping him/her out of harm’s way. While there are no specific guidelines or set age statistics for leaving children on their own, you may want to start by checking with local officials such as police and inquire about laws governing children being left home alone. While you may consider your child “ready”, legally he/she may not be.

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