School’s out, which means if your child is old enough, he or she may find themselves home alone without you. Navigating the house on their own, or with a babysitter, can definitely help kids build independence. However, you also want to make sure they’re safe.
For those times when your child may be home alone or with a babysitter, here’s a list of important summer safety tips.
Lesson 1: Basic First Aid
Decide what first aid your child may be capable of providing. If he or she gets a small cut or scrape, for example, your child can clean the wound and put on a band-aid.
What You Can Do: Prepare a first aid kit with those supplies that you would like him/her to use for such things as minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. Go over the items in the first aid kit and show your child how to use them. Then have your child role-play and practice with them. Discuss when they might need to call for help if the injury seems more serious than they can treat with the kit.
Pro Tip: If your child has a smartphone or device and is allowed to use it, download the Red Cross First Aid App.
Lesson 2: Fire Safety
Fire safety at home is important. Fires can be scary but even the sound of the smoke alarm can be frightening.
What You Can Do: Let your child hear the sound so they know what to expect. Then discuss the fact that they need to leave the house and contact a trusted adult such as a neighbor or someone by phone. If there’s an active fire that they see, they can call 9-1-1. Since your child can be anywhere in the house when the smoke alarm goes off, practice how to leave each room. Remember the rule of 2/2/2. Practice two ways out of every room, two times of the day (day and night) at least two times a year.
Lesson 3: Emergency Contact List
Help is just a phone call away. Share the emergency list with your child.
What You Can Do: Post the list of parents’ work and cell numbers, family, and friends who will be available to your child as needed. Include neighbors who can be a nearby onsite resource. The list also should include 9-1-1 for big emergencies (and your house address should the dispatcher need it). However, explain to your child the types of situations that would necessitate dialing 9-1-1.
Pro Tip: Involve your family member or neighbor and have your child give them a quick call to ask if it’s okay to put their names on your call list. That will give your child practice making the call.
Lesson 4: Bad Weather or Emergency Situations
Even in the summer, bad weather can strike. If your child is at home alone or with a sitter and there is a severe storm or another emergency situation, make sure they know what to do.
What You Can Do: Make sure your child or sitter knows how to check the weather, on their phone or your local weather channel, and have them sign up for emergency alerts. Also, make sure they know where you keep your emergency kit if they need to take shelter. Go over the family disaster plan with them so they know exactly who to call and where to go. It’s important to discuss emergency scenarios with your child and sitter before you leave them alone, so they won’t panic and will know exactly what to do.
Lesson 5: Home-Alone Rules
Depending upon your child’s age and maturity, and your own comfort level, set rules for when they are home alone or with a sitter.
What You Can Do: Go over the rules with your child. Practice them and explain their importance. And then write them down as a reference, that they can look at. Here are some rules you may consider.
Limit cooking and stay away from fire sources.
Decide if your child will be allowed to use the stove, microwave, or toaster. If not, make sure there are plenty of cold meal options and snacks. If you do allow cooking of any kind, review the safety rules. Make sure your child knows what materials are dangerous for the microwave, and not to fish out a stuck piece of toast from the toaster with a metal fork. Decide on the rules for knives. Make sure your child doesn’t do anything alone that he or she hasn’t already done successfully under your supervision. Finally, ensure that your child knows where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it in the event of a kitchen fire. (Also, if this happens, your child should call an adult and 9-1-1.)
Keep the house locked and don’t let strangers know you are alone.
Make sure all doors and windows are locked when your child is home alone or with a sitter. If there is a security system that will be set, teach your child how to enable and disable it. Let your son or daughter know not to answer the door, even for delivery people. If someone calls and asks for you, provide a script of what to say; for example, “he or she is busy right now. Can I take a message?” Write that by the phone so your child doesn’t have to remember it. Be clear on whether your child is allowed to leave the house, and under what circumstances. If he or she does leave for any reason, instruct your child to tell you. You should always know where your child is.
Set rules for the phone, computer, smart devices, and TV.
Screen time is a big draw to kids home alone. Set the rules so they know what is allowed and what is not. You may allow gaming but not social media, or a movie marathon but not long text conversations. Make sure your child does not share that they are home alone, whether on social media, text or other interactions.
Specify the way your child will check-in.
You will want reassurance that your child is all right. Ask him or her to check in with you at specified times and in specific ways. Decide whether a text or call will suffice and how often. Make it a rule that they have to answer you right away if you call.
If your child is new to being left alone, start small. Leave for a short errand. Praise your child for following the rules. Continue to model safety practices, and before long, you’ll be surprised at how responsible your child can be when home alone.
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