Many Canadian children nowadays stay home alone or with siblings for short periods of time, usually before and after school. For many parents it can be a very difficult decision to leave children at home without adult supervision. However, a common sense approach, good preparation, and a clear understanding of what is expected of children and adults can help families get ready for this important and sometimes scary step towards a child’s independence.
Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario recommend that parents do not leave children younger than 10 years of age to care for themselves. This may be different in your area. Check with your local Children’s Aid Society or Children’s Protection Services for the recommended age. Age alone is not a fair assessment to determine a child’s readiness to stay home alone. Not all children are responsible by age 10 and no child should be forced to stay home alone if not ready.
Parents should look for signs of readiness in their children:
- The child is at least 10 years of age.
- The child follows family rules and instructions well.
- The child knows his/her full name, address, major intersections and phone number.
- The child knows and understands when to contact 911.
- The child is not afraid to stay home alone.
- The child knows what to do when the unexpected arises.
- The child knows basic first aid, where the first aid kit is and how to use its contents.
- The child knows how to unlock and lock the door routinely.
- Your child knows how to contact a trusted adult if needed.
Once families are comfortable with the idea of leaving children without direct adult supervision, parents/guardians are required to ensure that they have made every effort to ensure the child’s safety. This includes:
- Ensuring children know their full name, address and phone number.
- Ensuring children feel confident they can contact parents/guardians and a trusted neighbour at all times.
- Ensuring children know when and how to contact 911.
- Ensuring children know how to get home safely.
- Ensuring children know how to lock and unlock the front door.
- Ensuring children know what to do if someone knocks at the door or the phone rings.
- Setting up some form of communication (phone, email, texting) for children to use to inform parents/guardians that they have arrived home safely.
- Ensuring children know what to do in the event of a variety of emergencies like fire, persistent stranger or flooding toilet.
- Preventing accidents by eliminating dangers and equipping homes with working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Designing and practicing fire escape plans and strategies.
- Ensuring children know where the first aid kit is located and how to perform basic first aid.
- Ensuring children remain occupied with constructive activities until parents/guardians get home.
- Establishing clear Rules and Expectations.
Parents should consider enrolling their child in a home alone safety course such as ones offered by SOS 4 Kids, many municipalities and YMCAs. These courses can help children feel more confident about staying home alone and parents feel more comfortable about leaving them. Even with responsible planning and preparation, parents need to use common sense and not overdo it by leaving their children unsupervised too much or too long.
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About Velma Ganassini
Velma Ganassini is the mother of 3 terrific boys, founder of the multi-award winning SOS First Aid and Safety Training, co-founder of SOS 4 Kids Inc (www.sosfirstaid.ca) and co-author of Home Alone Safety for kids. She is dedicated to making injury prevention information more interesting and engaging for children and adults. Follow Velma on Twitter @sosforkids.