Keeping kids safe when staying home alone

Posted by Christi Reynard email

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - With school out for the summer, many working families consider leaving kids home alone, but making sure kids are safe takes a lot of homework.

So, what age is right to leave the kids home alone?  It depends on the child.

The Ashford family could write the rule book on the right way to leave kids home alone. They say they know 14-year-old Jessica is ready to watch her little brothers.

"Responsible. I feel happy that my mom and my dad can trust me with their children," said Jessica Ashford.

But even responsible teens need guidelines to stay safe.  The first rule is to make rules and lots of them.

"They cannot open the door for anyone. No company. They must call in or call me or their dad at work at least every hour and a half just to check in and say what's going on. They can't cook on the stove. They can use the microwave," said mother Yolanda Ashford.

When it comes to those house rules, you need to be specific.

For example, when the phone or doorbell ring, what's the response? Should they answer or ignore it? You might coach children to say mom's not available instead of mom's not home.

You also have to prepare them for the worst.

"I think to me... the basic is what to do in an emergency... for the kids to know who they can call. Is there a neighbor close by? How to call 9-1-1, and also just having a general structure for the day," said Eric Herman, MA, LLP with Children's Hospital of Michigan.

"They listen and they follow directions well, and we've planned... escape routes in case of fires and things of that nature," said father Jerome Ashford.

Chores are also a part of the Ashfords' daily routine. It adds responsibility and prevents boredom.  Leaving a list can help.

"Clean my room. Clean my bathroom. Wash dishes. Sometimes I mop the floors," Jessica Ashford said.

"I take out the garbage, and I wash dishes sometimes," said Jessica's little brother Jerome Ashford III.

"When kids gets bored, that's when bad stuff happens. So, if they know what's expected at a given time or what they should do, it just helps the day to flow a little easier and takes some of the worrying and some of the guessing out of day for the kids," Herman said.

Home Alone Tips for Parents:

Set Ground Rules - Establish some special rules for when you're away and make sure that your child knows and understands them. Consider rules about:

- having a friend or friends over while you're not there
- TV time and types of shows
- Internet and computer rules
- kitchen and cooking (you might want to make the oven and utensils like sharp knives off limits)
- not opening the door for strangers
- answering the phone
- getting along with siblings
- not telling anyone he or she is alone

Chores - Assign age-appropriate chores to your child every day, to be done before you arrive home. Chores give a child structure and a sense of pride in work.  And if you have an older child babysitting younger siblings, come up with chores for every child staying home.

Boredom - Parents should try to ward off boredom by preparing activities and games to play. Kids get hungry when they're bored so have plenty of ready-to-eat food in the house.

Leave a note or two - Leaving love notes and lists of things to do help add to your child's sense of security. Be sure to tell your child how proud you are and that you love him very much.
Review the day - When you come home from work, ask your child about her day, what she did, how the project went, what happened in the book she was reading.

Check-In - Call every few hours to check on your child. Let him know you are thinking about him and will be home soon. If possible, ask a relative or friend to check in on your child.

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