One of the realities of today's
society is the pressure for children to stay home
alone for a short time after school until a parent
returns from work. But according to Canada Safety
Council president Emile Therien, parents who let
their children stay home on their own or with a
sibling must supervise them remotely.
"Whether they are 6 or 16, school age
children need to be supervised by a responsible
adult," he advises. "If you can't be
there in person when your child gets home from
school, find a way to give him or her the feeling
of being supervised."
The Canada Safety Council's advice includes:
* Set firm rules, with clear do's and don'ts.
* Prepare your child to deal with situations that
* Specify how his or her time is to be spent.
* Keep in touch -- if you're hard to reach, get a
mobile phone or pager.
* Make sure your home is safe and secure.
* Limit the time you leave your child at home
The age at which children can legally be left at
home alone for short periods of time varies from
province to province, from 10 to 12 years.
However, a 1999 report commissioned by Health
Canada found that parents request "home
alone" courses for children as young as grade
Therien urges parents not to consider letting a
child stay at home alone before age 10 -- and then
only if the child is mature enough, only for an
hour or two at most, and only if there's a
responsible adult nearby to help out if needed. He
says age alone does not determine whether or not a
child is capable of looking after himself or
herself properly. For example, unsupervised teens
and pre-teens can sometimes get into more trouble
than younger children.
Short test runs may help you assess whether your
child is ready to stay home alone. Go out for just
a few minutes. When you return, talk to your child
about the experience. Increase the amount of time
you are out, leaving specific instructions to
follow. After a few trials answer these questions:
* Does the child feel comfortable about being on
his or her own?
* Do you feel comfortable about the child being at
* Can the child follow rules responsibly?
* Does he/she understand and remember
instructions, whether written or oral?
* Does the child find constructive things to do
without getting into mischief?
* Can the child handle normal and unexpected
* Are you able to communicate readily with him or
her when you are not at home?
* Can the child always reach someone to help in
case of emergency?
To prepare children for the responsibilities of
self care, the Canada Safety Council has published
a booklet entitled At Home On My Own for its
November Community Safety and Crime Prevention
campaign. The booklet focuses on how to prevent
problems, handle real-life situations, and keep
safely and constructively occupied. To obtain a
copy, send a self-addressed 9" x 12"
envelope with 92¢ postage to the Canada Safety
Council, 1020 Thomas Spratt Place, Ottawa, ON K2K
"On Your Own" Home Safety Checklist
* List important numbers beside each telephone
and/or program them in.
* Equip your phone with an answering device or
service so it can take messages.
* Buy a phone with caller I.D. Tell your child to
answer the phone only for specific callers. Let
the phone take a message for all others.
* Provide secure locks for all doors and windows.
* Store matches, lighters, medications, household
cleaners, and other toxic substances in a safe
place. Make sure they are clearly labeled and in
their original containers.
* Lock up alcoholic beverages, and check to make
sure they do not mysteriously disappear.
* Store firearms and ammunition separately and
under lock and key.
* Use light timers so your child doesn't come home
to a dark house.
* You must have a smoke alarm on each level of the
house (or for homes on one level, near the kitchen
and all bedrooms). Test them to make sure they all
* Replace any broken electrical cords and use no
more than two plugs per outlet.
* Keep your hot water heater below 54 C to prevent
Assemble a basic kit with your child, explaining
what each item is and how to use it.
* box of different-sized bandages for small cuts;
* sterile gauze pad for larger cuts, with adhesive
tape to hold it and small scissors to cut the
* tweezers to remove slivers;
* peroxide to clean cuts and cotton balls to apply
* digital thermometer to check for fever.
* Keep a cold pack in the freezer.
* Keep a flashlight or two (and extra batteries)
* Provide a few items that can run on batteries,
e.g. radio, clock, electronic game
This article published by the Canada Safety
Posted by the Canada Safety Council, October 2000.