I am a single mother who is at work when my twelve-year-old son gets home from school. What can I do to make sure that he is physically and emotionally protected during the hours that I’m not there?
There’s no doubt about it — a supervised home is preferable. However, work does not always allow us that opportunity. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help ensure the safety of your child when they are home alone. The following advice typically applies to children ages 11 and up. Children younger than 11 require supervision at all times.
Children should keep their house keys hidden. Do not permit your child to experiment with different routes between your home and afterschool activities. Walking home with friends or a trusted adult is preferable. Once your child is home, he or she should check in so that a responsible adult knows they have arrived home safely.
Establishing a daily schedule so that your child has something to do during their time at home is very important. Boredom often precipitates trouble. Provide some kind of entertainment such as a puzzle or art materials or even simple chores. You may also want to keep some healthy pre-prepared snacks around.
Post your contact emergency numbers by the phone and make sure your child knows what to do and who to reach in case of an emergency. Do a few mock run-throughs with your child for practice. Also, post house safety rules regarding the use of appliances and answering the door and telephone. Children should not answer the door for strangers and should not admit to being home alone over the telephone.
Although the tips above should help, keep looking for ways you can provide your child with supervised care. Perhaps there is a local recreational organization or summer program you can tap into.
Some children may have fears about staying home alone and need an adult to answer their questions and concerns. Talk with your child about staying home alone and make sure they are comfortable with the situation. Finally, it is important to spend time together each day. Your love and attention cannot be replaced.
Dr. Pramod Narula is Chairman of Pediatrics, New York Methodist Hospital, Brooklyn.