The Canada Safety Council
Every year once school starts, working parents are put in a tricky spot. It can be difficult to strike a balance between work hours and school hours, and this difficulty often manifests itself in the form of a couple of hours where the parent can’t be with their child before and/or after school.
Many parents choose to enroll their children in before- or after-school programs, arrange for their children to be watched by family or friends, or are fortunate enough to have flexible work hours that allow them to be available once school lets out for the day.
Many other parents, though, explore the possibility of leaving their children home alone or with siblings, trusting them to stay safe, take care of themselves and lock up the house when they leave.
During this year’s National School Safety Week, the Canada Safety Council wants to remind parents of a few safety aspects to consider before making the decision to leave their children home alone.
Firstly, make sure your child is prepared for the added responsibility. The Canada Safety Council recommends that no child below the age of ten be left home alone, and additional consideration should be given to the child’s temperament, maturity health as well as any legislation that may be in effect in your province.
A child should not be left home because it’s the easy option or because it costs less than an after-school program. It’s far more important to ensure that children are well equipped to look after their own wellbeing.
That begins from a mental standpoint. Ask the child if they feel as though they’ll be able to handle the responsibility. Take care to address any concerns or fears they may have, and ensure that you take the necessary amount of time for the child to fully understand the responsibilities being assigned to them.
For a child being left home alone before school, these responsibilities could include:
• Fixing themselves breakfast
• Packing their lunch for the day
• Ensuring they are out of the house in time to catch the school bus, if applicable; and
• Locking the doors before leaving for school
A child who has a few hours after school may have responsibilities including:
• Locking the door behind them after arriving home
• Calling a parent or guardian to let them know they have arrived home safely
• Doing homework in an unsupervised environment; and
• Doing chores, if applicable
Children should also be taught how to handle emergency situations, including what to do in case of injury, natural disaster or power outages. The child should always have access to a first aid kit containing different-sized bandages, sterile gauze pads, tweezers, peroxide and a digital thermometer.
Other advice for parents to consider:
• Set firm rules for the child, with clear do’s and don’ts. This can include restrictions on TV or Internet time, what to eat as a snack, as well as general restrictions on what they are to do with their time.
• Keep in touch with your child – be sure that you’re available at all times by phone in case of emergency.
• Make sure your home is safe and secure, with as few injury risks as possible.
• Limit the amount of time your child is home alone to a couple of hours, at most. If it’s going to be any longer, hire a babysitter or find a before- or after-school program that can handle the extended hours.
For more information, please see our “On Your Own” Home Safety Checklist <http://canadasafetycouncil.org/child-safety/your-own-home-safety-checklist>
The Canada Safety Council also offers a Home Alone program, designed for children over the age of ten to receive training and education on best practices to take when home alone. Interested parents and guardians can find out more information as well as locations where the course is offered here <https://canadasafetycouncil.org/training/home-alone-program> .