The American Red Cross has some tips to keep kids safe and put parent's minds at ease. Before leaving a child alone or with someone else, set ground rules and be sure to enforce them. The rules should be specific to your beliefs and the maturity level of the children in question. In Illinois, the law states children must be 14 or older before they can be left home alone.
If you no longer have a landline at your house, make sure your kids have access to a cell phone. Teach them how to use it and how and why to call 9-1-1. Program in other important emergency numbers and let a couple of trustworthy neighbors know about your situation. Those phone numbers should also be handy to your child.
Come up with a plan in case of severe weather, fire or injury. Practice that plan several times and offer up different scenarios and solutions. Don’t just talk about it and practice, put the plan in writing. That way in a real emergency everyone will have something to refer to when the pressure is mounting. Investing in a weather radio is always a good idea in our area. It's also a good opportunity to review important information with your child; address including county, emergency phone numbers and full names of emergency contacts.
Enroll your child in a CPR class. It’s always a good idea to be well versed in lifesaving techniques. There are also apps and websites available to help in emergency situations. Older kids can also take a babysitter training course. Many communities offer these at little or no cost this time of year.
Remove or hide any potentially dangerous items around the house including guns, knives and poisonous chemicals (don't forget about any prescriptions.) Your child should really be old enough to understand about the safety of these things if they’re being left alone, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s also a good idea to limit how much cooking gets done when an adult isn't home. Prepare meals ahead of time or have cold lunches to reduce the risks of fire. For older kids, alcohol may need to be locked up when adults are away.
It's the perfect time to review your any stranger danger rules and set safety guidelines. Make sure the child locks the door and doesn’t let strangers into the house. Also remind them not to tell friends or post on social media that they’re home alone, this is an invitation for trouble. When the phone rings, the response should me, “My parents are busy right now” and not “They’re not here.”
When dropping a child off, make sure they have access to a phone and can reach you or someone you designate in case of an emergency. Know the friends and parents of who your kids are with. If they’re going to be around water, enroll them in swim lessons. Remind them to always wear a seatbelt when getting into the car and never leave with a stranger.
Talk to your kids at an early age about drinking and drugs. It may not be an easy conversation to have, but it’s better to get ahead of it before the situation presents itself. Your pediatrician should have information and advice about bringing up the topic. We all want to trust our kids, but sometimes they make poor decisions when peer pressure is increased.
With a little pre-planning and communication there’s no reason this summer can’t be a great time for you and your children. Allowing them the opportunity for independence and responsibility will build self esteem and confidence. Plan fun family activities to reward their behavior as you deem appropriate.
For family resources and information visit http://www.sifamilies.org/help-for-families