How to keep your kids safe when they're home alone

For most children getting a key to the house and trust from their parents to stay home alone is like a right of passage, but for parents this moment can be pretty worrisome.

For most children getting a key to the house and trust from their parents to stay home alone is like a right of passage, but for parents this moment can be pretty worrisome.

We want to help ease that process.

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First, parents, you should know when your child is legally allowed to stay home alone. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, only Illinois, Maryland and Oregon have laws requiring a minimum age for children to be left home alone.

In Maryland, children must be at least eight years old to be left alone. While there is not a law regarding a minimum age for children being left alone in Virginia, the Fairfax County government has created some age guidelines.

Age Guidelines:

7 years and under: Should not be left alone for any period of time. This may include leaving children unattended in cars, playgrounds, and backyards. The determining consideration would be the dangers in the environment and the ability of the caretaker to intervene.

8 to 10 years: Should not be left alone for more than 1.5 hours and only during daylight and early evening hours.

11 to 12 years: May be left alone for up to 3 hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility.

13 to 15 years: May be left unsupervised, but not overnight.

16 to 17 years: May be left unsupervised (in some cases, for up to two consecutive overnight periods).

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If your child meets the age requirement and you feel comfortable allowing him or her to stay home alone, here are some tips from the Red Cross to keep your child safe.

  • Lock the doors and if the home has an electronic security system, children should learn how to turn it on and have it on when home alone.
  • Never open the door to strangers. Always check before opening the door to anyone, looking out through a peephole or window first.
  • Never open the door to delivery people or service representatives. Ask delivery people to leave the package at the door or tell them to come back at another time. Service representatives, such as a TV cable installer, should have an appointment when an adult is home.
  • Never tell someone on the telephone that the parents are not at home. Say something like “He or she is busy right now. Can I take a message?”
  • Do not talk about being home alone on social media web sites. Kids should be cautious about sharing information about their location when using chat rooms or posting on social networks.
  • Never leave the house without permission. If it’s okay to go outside, children should tell their parents where they are going, when they are leaving, and when they will return. If mom and dad are still at work, children should call them when they return home.
  • Do not go outside to check out an unusual noise. If the noise worries the child, they should call their parents, an adult, or the police.
  • Don’t talk to strangers.
  • Do not have friends over to visit when your parents aren’t at home unless you have permission to do so. Do not let anyone inside who is using drugs or alcohol, even if you know them.
  • If the child smells smoke or hears a fire or smoke alarm, they should get outside and ask a neighbor to call the fire department.

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Here are some steps from the Red Cross parents can take to protect their children:

  • Post an emergency phone list where the children can see it. Include 911, the parents work and cell numbers, numbers for neighbors, and the numbers for anyone else who is close and trusted.
  • Practice an emergency plan with the child so they know what to do in case of fire, injury, or other emergencies. Write the plan down and make sure the child knows where it is.
  • Let children know where the flashlights are. Make sure that the batteries are fresh, and that the child knows how to use them.
  • Remove or safely store in locked areas dangerous items like guns, knives, hand tools, power tools, razor blades, scissors, ammunition and other objects that can cause injury
  • Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, care-care fluids, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach of children.
  • Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage place or out of the reach of children.
  • Install safety covers on all unused electrical outlets.
  • Limit any cooking a young child can do. Make sure at least one approved smoke alarm is installed and operating on each level of the home.
  • Limit the time the child spends in front of the television or computer. Caution them to not talk about being home alone on public web sites. Kids should be cautious about sharing information about their location when using chat rooms or posting on social networks.

For a full list of the tips and steps, click here.

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