Because you’re a hardworking parent, your kids may beat you home at the end of the day. They get out of school before you get out of work. Children who let themselves in regularly are often referred to as “latch-key kids.” According to The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, about 40 percent of children are left home alone at some time. You may be concerned about leaving your kids unattended, but there are ways to keep them safe from afar.
1. The Right Age and Maturity Level
Not all kids are mature enough to be left home alone. There’s no real hard and fast rule as to the appropriate age for children to be left unattended – the exception being state laws on the subject. Once your children are of the legal age to be home alone, you can decide whether they should be based on their general behavior. Children who display responsibility – get good grades, react well in stressful situations, etc. – should be able to handle being alone.
How do your children behave under pressure? Are they independent? Will they be watching younger siblings? Do they follow rules and safety precautions? Ask yourself these types of questions if you’re having a hard time discerning your children’s readiness.
2. Create and Enforce House Rules
Go through the house rules before letting your child spend time home alone. Determine what activities are acceptable – doing homework, watching approved television shows, eating dinner, etc. – and which are not – e.g., accessing inappropriate TV channels and websites. Be sure that adult TV and websites are blocked on your home entertainment systems. You may have a list of chores for your children to do or you may not want your kids have a friend over while you’re gone.
3. Teach Safety Precautions
Instill certain habits in your kids that will keep them safe. They should lock the door when they get home. They shouldn’t leave the kitchen while cooking. Keep a list of contact numbers in a convenient location. The list can include your cellphone number, a trusted neighbor or friend’s phone number, authority contacts (non-emergency police and hospital) and 911. While your child should already understand the concept of dialing 911 in an emergency, it still helps to keep it at the top of your list.
Decide how you want your kids to respond to the doorbell when they are home alone. Can they answer it? Should they look through the peephole first?
4. Utilize Home Security
Use your home security system to help keep your latchkey kids safe. The Simon XT device – which controls your system – has a feature that allows your kids to check in when they get home. You can program the device to alert you when your kids enter their individual passcode. You can also receive notices if your kids haven’t checked in by a certain time.
The SMART Connect app will allow you to watch live video feed of your home from your computer or smartphone. Monitor the footage when your children are due to arrive home from school.
Keep your kids safe by ensuring your house is guarded with the proper number and types of sensors. You should keep a motion sensor by all the entrances of your home. A glass break sensor will sound the alarm when a window has been broken. Teach your kids what to do in the event that your alarm system detects an intruder.
5. Reach Out to Trusted Neighbors
Enlist the help of neighbors when you first allow your children to be home alone. Ask them to keep an eye on the house and give your kids their phone number for emergencies. This person can also call you with updates or ring the doorbell to check on the kids.
6. Graduate Their Time Alone
Start by letting the kids stay home while you run errands – just 20 to 30 minutes at a time. As they show their ability to handle small increments, increase it. Eventually, they can stay home after school while you’re still at work. Slowly introduce new responsibilities. Older kids can even cook dinner (younger kids should only use the microwave if they know how to do so safely) or do extra chores. As your children comply with your house rules, you can reward them by letting them have a friend over.
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