TOPEKA -- Schools are letting kids out for summer break, and for many families this means a significant change in their daily schedule. Many times these changes leave parents in a situation where they must make a decision about leaving their child at home alone for some period of time. In a report, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that nearly 7 million school-age children are routinely left home alone.
“Developmentally, children are generally ready to be home alone around the age of 12 or 13,” says Cherie Sage, State Director of Safe Kids Kansas. “However, children develop at different rates, so use your own discretion to determine your child’s maturity level and capabilities.” For example, if you have an impulsive 13-year-old who is a big risk taker, you might be hesitant to leave him or her alone. On the other hand, a thoughtful 11-year-old who has a good track record of following household rules might be ready. Most states, including Kansas, don’t have regulations or laws about when a child is considered old enough to stay at home alone or babysit another child.
Each year, more than 3 million kids ages 14 and under get hurt at home – and more than 2,000 children die from unintentional injuries in the home. Fire, suffocation, drowning, choking, firearm and poisoning are among the top leading causes of unintentional home injury death for this age group. “Teach your children about hazards around the home, and make sure they know what to do in an emergency,” says Sage. “The first time your kids stay home alone, it should be for a short time and you should be nearby.”
Safe Kids Kansas recommends these precautions:
Carry a cell phone and keep it turned on. Make sure your children know where you will be and what time you will return. In addition to your cell phone number, post emergency numbers (police, fire, EMS, doctor and the poison control hotline, 800-222-1222) and a friend or neighbor’s number by every phone in the home. Teach your child their home address so they can tell emergency personnel where to dispatch assistance, if necessary.
Prepare a snack or meal in advance — preferably one that does not need to be heated. If your children will need to cook, remind them never to leave an oven or stove unattended while cooking and to turn it off when they are finished.
Make sure potentially poisonous or hazardous household items are locked up out of reach — especially medications, matches, lighters, weapons and cleaning products.
Review your family’s emergency plans and make sure your children know what to do if the smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector goes off. Practice two escape routes from each room.
Review and practice plans for other types of emergencies, such as severe weather. Ensure they know where to go for emergency shelter.
Show your children where you keep your first aid kit and how to use basic first aid supplies.