The American Red Cross has steps parents and children can take to make these after-school hours safer and less stressful.
"Decide if your child is mature enough to be home alone and ask if they are comfortable being alone," suggested American Red Cross in Arkansas spokesperson, Brigette Williams. "If the answer is yes to both, it's helpful to develop a home safety plan, discuss it and practice it with your children."
If available, after-school child care at school, youth clubs or sports programs are alternatives for children who are not mature enough or uncomfortable staying home alone.
The Red Cross recommends the following safety steps to add to the adult's and child's peace of mind and preparedness:
"It's a good idea to have them call you at work to check in when they get home," stated Williams. "With an older child, additional ground rules such as whether other kids can come over when you're absent and if they can leave the house may be needed."
Cooking is another point of concern. "Discuss if they are ready to use the oven, stove or microwave and if they understand how to be fire safe," added Williams. "With kitchen fires a major cause of home fires and Arkansas' number three ranking on Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) fire fatality list with children under 12 the majority of the victims, fire safety is lifesaving."
Other steps that parents and guardians can include in their home safety plans:
- Posting an emergency phone list where children can see it. Include 9-1-1, parent's work and cell numbers and the numbers for anyone else who is close and trusted such as a neighbor or friend.
- Identify neighbors whose home your child can go to in case of an emergency that requires them to leave home. Let the neighbor know the child is home alone and may call if needed.
- Practice emergency plans with your kids so they know what to do in the event of fire, injury, or other emergencies. Write the plan down and make sure the child knows where it is.
- \Make sure the first aid kit is stocked and stored where your children can find it; keep it out of reach of young children. Red Cross babysitter training can enhance their safety skills.
- Let children know where the flashlights are. Make sure that the batteries are fresh, and that the child knows how to use them.
- Remove or safely store in locked areas dangerous items like guns, ammunition, knives, hand tools, power tools, razor blades, scissors, and other objects that can cause injury.
- Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, care-care fluids, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach of children.
- Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage place or out of the reach of children.
- Install safety covers on all unused electrical outlets.
- Make sure at least one approved smoke alarm is installed and operating on each level of the home.
- Limit the time the child spends in front of the television or computer. Activate parental controls. Use programs that limit the sites children can visit, restrict chat sites and allow parents to monitor online activity.
- Never schedule appointments for service representatives, such as a TV cable installer, without an adult being present.
When talking to kids about being at home alone, parents should stress the following steps, and post them to remind the child what they should or shouldn't, do until you're home:
- Lock the door and make sure all the windows are closed and locked.
- If the home has an electronic security system, children should learn how to turn it on and have it on when home alone.
- Never open the door to strangers.
- Only open the door for people you have permission to let in the house. Always check the peephole or window before opening the door. If unsure, contact your caregiver.
- Never open the door to delivery people or service representatives. Ask delivery people to leave the package at the door or tell them to come back at another time.
- Never tell someone on the telephone that your parents or guardian is not at home. Say something like "He or she is busy right now. Can I take a message?"
- Do not talk about being home alone when on the internet. Kids should not share information about their location when using chat rooms or posting on social networks.
- Never leave the house without permission. If permission has been given, call your parents and tell them you are leaving the house, where you're headed and when you will return.
- Do not go outside to check out an unusual noise. If the noise worries you, call an adult, a neighbor, or 9-1-1. Let the 9-1-1 operator know you're home alone.
- If you smell smoke or hear the fire or smoke alarm, get outside quickly and ask a neighbor to call the fire department.
Many tweens and teens are responsible for watching younger siblings. The Red Cross Babysitter's Training course provides 11 to 15 year-olds knowledge and skills necessary to safely and responsibly provide care for children and infants. "Even if a teen never plans to babysit, the course is valuable with First Aid/CPR training and other safety skills enhancing their confidence to care for themselves," stated Williams. Participants learn basic child care and first aid develop leadership skills and learn how to develop a babysitting business. Click here for more information.