Leaving Your Child Home Alone? Here’s How to Keep Them Safe

Schools across the state of Connecticut are closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and many parents have no choice but to return to work. If you’re one of them, how can you decide if your child is ready to be left home alone – and how will you make sure they’re safe?

Kevin Borrup, DrPH, JD, MPA, associate director of Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center, joins the blog with advice.

Determine if your child is ready for the responsibility.

The most important consideration when leaving a child home alone is deciding whether they are ready for the responsibility. Research presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children should be at least 12 years of age before staying home alone for four hours or longer. If a child will be caring for a younger sibling, they should be at least 15 years old, based on guidance from the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office. Parents need to think about the maturity of their own child in determining whether they are ready and feel comfortable being home alone.

Of course, when possible, the best option is for a responsible adult to be at home to provide supervision. While some parents will have the option of working from home, many will not. If you have to go to work and leave your children home alone, identify a trusted adult who lives nearby that your children can reach out to if they need help immediately.

Plan lunch before you leave.

Mealtime can present a significant risk, from the use of knives, to hot stovetops, and even microwave ovens. The simple use of a microwave can turn into a scald burn or kitchen fire. If possible, leave a pre-prepared lunch that children can eat without any additional preparation. In addition, there is an elevated choking risk for children 4 years and younger during mealtime that requires active supervision: Older teens with caregiving responsibilities should be aware of this risk and actively supervise children when they eat.

> Want help getting your family through COVID-19? Check out our School Closure Kit

Create a schedule.

Talk with your children about their plan for the day. If your school has provided a packet of schoolwork, create a schedule for the day that includes that schoolwork in addition to Internet use, television or movie watching, and communicating with their friends.

Get expert advice for structuring your child’s day, plus a sample schedule.

Schedule check-in calls periodically throughout the day to provide both you and your child with assurance. You should also leave a written list of phone numbers, such as your work number, mobile number, a trusted adult’s number and even the police non-emergency number.

Review the rules.

Establish clear rules for your child to follow when they’re home alone, such as:

  • Don’t have friends over. (This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic, since limiting social contact helps prevent the spread of illness.)
  • Don’t open the door for anyone.
  • For questions or problems that are not emergencies, call a parent or trusted adult.
  • For any kind of emergency, call 911 immediately. Then call a trusted adult.
  • In the case of smoke or fire, get out of the house immediately. Then call 911. After that, call your trusted adult.

Does your child have questions about coronavirus? Here’s how to talk to them about it.

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