Good afternoon and welcome to our programme, ‘Family Tips’. Today we’re talking about the problems parents have in deciding when their children are old enough to stay at home by themselves for the three or four hours between school and the time mothers get back from work. We have with us in the studio, psychologist Alex Clarke.
Alex, at what age is it safe to give children the front door key and what sort of things should parents discuss with their children first to ensure their safety?
It is generally accepted that kids between ten and thirteen are capable of taking care of themselves and their siblings, but what you really need to assess is their maturity. If you’re confident they can follow instructions and handle emergencies, the next step is to establish some rules. First, have a plan of action for them to check in with you when they get home it’s important they ring you as soon as they get in. Then you should give them a call when you leave work to go home. You should agree what to do when the phone rings or if someone comes to the house. It is best to teach them never to open the door to anyone, regardless of whether they know them or not. Then little by little get your children used to a new situation where they are left alone – initially for a very short time, say, about 20 minutes. Make sure that you have a trial period in which your kids can familiarise themselves with using the house key. Instruct them to always keep it in their school bag and attach a long key chain that will help them to find the key easily. Make emergency numbers available by leaving them near the phone. Leave snacks that they can eat straight away without having to cook using the cooker is the leading cause of accidents. Show your children where the medical kit and fire extinguishers are and teach your children how to use them. Lock away medicines and alcoholic drinks. And don’t forget to talk frequently to your children about all sorts of situations that might happen. You could even use role-play as a technique for showing them how to deal with such situations.