Program Helps Parents Teach Children Home-Alone Skills

“Child saves the day by calling 911” can be a true story when children have adequate education from parents, teachers and community partners in caring for themselves when they are home alone.

During this time when many parents are working from home or families are isolated at home, they may have more time to help their children build skills. That is why Iowa 4-H is offering free, hands-on learning experiences to help parents help their children gain confidence in staying home alone. 4-H is the youth development program of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

On Their Own and OK is tailored for parents and children in fourth through sixth grade and registration is online. Families have until April 23 to register, says Ann Torbert, 4-H program specialist. Then, every Thursday from April 23 through May 28 they’ll receive, via email, directions for hands-on family learning using materials typically found at home. They’ll also receive a free parent guide to help them support their children staying for short amounts of time on their own.

In addition, families will have opportunities to contact 4-H youth program specialists to share reflections and ask questions.

Parents who enroll their family will learn how to teach emergency tips and home safety, help their children handle boredom without technology, assign age appropriate chores, and plan a family celebration to continue to strengthen family relationships.

“Youth left home by themselves without self-care skills may find ways to occupy their time that grownups in the home may not like. Some young people may truly be fearful staying home alone. These classes build skills in youth, as well as incorporate ways for grownups in the home to support this step toward independence,” Torbert said.

Torbert shared U.S. Census data that 7 million school-age children across the nation are left home alone during summer months. Fifteen states have laws defining a set age or age range for when a child can be left home alone. Iowa has no set age, Torbert added.

According to National SAFE KIDS Campaign, the nationwide childhood injury prevention program in the United States focusing on preventing unintentional injuries to children ages 14 and under, the general rule is that most children under age 12 are not mature enough to deal with emergencies. Much of this decision for a parent relates back to the maturity of the child.

“To know if children are ready for time at home alone, parents need to understand their children’s physical, intellectual and social/emotional maturity levels,” Torbert said.

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