Leaving Your Child Home Alone After School? What Precautions Should You Take?

Posted on: 23 September 2016

Even if you grew up as part of the latchkey generation yourself, walking or riding the bus home to an empty house and spending several hours alone, you may be reluctant to allow your own child to stay home alone after school. This reluctance can be exacerbated by the number of news stories about "free-range" parents being investigated or even prosecuted for leaving children unattended in public or at home. In some cases, allowing your child to stay home alone may be your only option. Fortunately, by taking a few simple, preliminary steps, you'll be able to ensure your child remains as safe and secure as possible even without adult supervision. Read on to learn more about some of the safety precautions you may want to take when planning to leave your child at home alone after school for the first time.

Install fire extinguishers (if you haven't already)

If your child is planning to do any food preparation more extensive than assembling a sandwich, you'll want to make sure you have at least one working fire extinguisher in an area easily accessible to the kitchen. Cooking mishaps are the number-one cause of home fires, and something as simple as an errant piece of foil in the microwave could lead to a blaze your child may not know how to handle. Having a fire extinguisher on hand (and ensuring your child knows how to use it) can improve safety and provide you with peace of mind. You can get a fire extinguisher from a company such as Tri County Fire Protection.

When selecting a fire extinguisher, you'll want to make sure it is light enough for your child to comfortably handle as well as ensure the handle is designed in a way that allows your child to depress it to release the foam spray. You may also want to run through a few fire drills to gauge your child's reaction to a true emergency. A child who seems nervous at the prospect of putting out a fire or who is likely to freeze in panic may be better off if restricted from using the stove or microwave for another year or two.

Double-check your emergency communication methods 

With more and more households moving away from the landline phone as a primary form of communication, ensuring that your child has access to emergency services via phone or Internet is crucial. You'll likely also want a way for your child to contact you after getting off the bus just so you know he or she arrived home safely.

One option is to purchase a pay-as-you-go cell phone that can remain in your home. By paying for individual texts and minutes rather than unlimited messaging and data, you'll be able to keep a better eye on your child's usage, and a phone that is used for just a short call or set of texts per day can be quite inexpensive to maintain. 

Another option is to set up a video-chat session before you leave your home in the morning. If you have a computer and webcam, you should be able to log into a video-chat program from your home computer, calling up this chat later in the afternoon from your smartphone or work computer to get a live view of your living room and to check on your child.

Do a practice run

If leaving your child home alone for an hour or two after school still makes you nervous, you may want to test out his or her readiness for this responsibility by allowing him or her to stay alone while you take a short trip to a nearby store or to a neighbor's house. By remaining fairly close by during your child's first few solo sessions, you'll be able to provide some reassurance while still allowing independence—essentially the "training wheels" needed to transition between constant supervision and a more free-range lifestyle.