By: Melanie Anderson
This is a question that a lot of us parents struggle with: “When is the right age for my child to be home alone”?
I decided to contact my local police department to ask some important questions on home safety and how exactly to know when your child is ready to be home alone.
1. As parents, we all know that there is no exact age for a child to walk home or be home alone after school. What are some signs that your child is ready for coming home to an empty house after school?
A: “Knowing when a child can handle being home alone will vary from household to household. Things to consider w
hen making this decision include maturity, the length of time which they’ll be home alone, how close the parents work, etc. It’s a big difference whether a child is going to be home an hour vs 4 hours, or whether mom or dad works around the corner vs in Boston. Another factor is how well do you know your neighbors? If you have someone next door which you are close with and trust, that could be another factor to weigh when considering if the time is right to let them be home alone.”
2. What safety measures can a parent take to make sure that the house is protected and safe before your child comes home on that first day?
A: “Ensuring all first floor windows are locked as well as any exterior doors is key. Creating a hard target for thieves, generally, will cause them to move on and not be bothered.”
3. Knowing that preparedness is key, what safety points and plans can be made with a child without scaring them from being home alone?
A: “Make sure your child has someone close by they can call should the need arise. Once again this touches on an earlier question about the benefits of having close neighbors that you trust. If you do have a child coming home to an empty house and you have a trusted neighbor, tell them in advance. Let them know little Billy/Susie will be coming home after school alone. More often than not they’ll keep an eye out. Make sure you child knows what to do in the event of an emergency. Have ground rules set in place for when mom and dad aren’t home, i.e. no cooking, no pool, no outside playing, etc. Make sure they know to close and lock the door once they are home. Tell them not to answer the door for anyone. When a sitter watches my
children, I always explain not to answer if someone rings the doorbell, and that I will from my smartphone since I have a smart doorbell. Have a list of people and contact #’s on the fridge. Tell them they are to call those people should they need anything.”
4. If a child does come home and thinks something looks off or not okay inside or outside of the home what should he or she do to keep safe?
A: “Go to a neighbor’s house, or a house close by, that they know and call the police.”
5. What other tips might you have as an officer and/or parent in regard to a child coming home to an empty house?
A: “With technology today changing so much, electronics to keep your house safe are now relatively cheap. Consider inexpensive simple to set up cameras either inside or outside the house (Nest Cam, Arlo, are two). Anyone these days can set up an indoor wireless camera inside the home that can be remotely viewed from a smartphone relatively cheap. Aside from exterior cameras, I have the “Ring” video doorbell. I’ve found that it works wonders, enabling me to know when someone is at my door or triggers the motion sensor in the front of my house. I can even answer my door, as if I am home, from my iPhone and be anywhere in the US.”
Taking extra precautions, making a safety plan, and making the right judgements on when it works for your family can make this big step less stressful for you and your child.