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Children "Home Alone"

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 may arise. 
* 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 alone. 

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 three.

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 home alone? 
* 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 situations? 
* 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 5L5.

"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.

Fire Safety 
* 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 work. 
* Replace any broken electrical cords and use no more than two plugs per outlet. 
* Keep your hot water heater below 54 C to prevent scalding.

First Aid
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 tape; 
* tweezers to remove slivers; 
* peroxide to clean cuts and cotton balls to apply it; and 
* digital thermometer to check for fever. 
* Keep a cold pack in the freezer.

Power Outages 
* Keep a flashlight or two (and extra batteries) handy. 
* Provide a few items that can run on batteries, e.g. radio, clock, electronic game 

This article published by the Canada Safety Council. 
Posted by the Canada Safety Council, October 2000.

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