Home alone. Is YOUR Child Ready? Are YOU?

It sneaks up on you… the day arrives and your child asks “Pleeease! I don’t want to go to the store with you… can I stay home instead?”  This can be an exciting (and scary) time for both parent and child (mostly scary for the parents!). This is a popular question in our workshops…. “Is my child ready?” and “What is the age law on children staying home alone?”

Many parents think the “law” is age 12. So it comes as a surprise to find out that in most states there is no age “law” minimum for kids staying home alone, just recommendations. The “recommendation” for each state can vary from ages 8 to 12, but these recommendations are not a law.

Only you can determine if your child is ready (and the situation is safe) to stay home alone… we have complied a partial list* with some good questions to help get you started and help you gauge the maturity and readiness of having your child staying home alone for short periods of time:

  • Does your child know how to dial 911?
  • Does your child know your full name and address?
  • Does your child know how to operate the phone correctly?
  • What are your rules regarding cooking or playing outside when you are gone?
  • Can your child respond correctly to “What if” situations such as “What if the power went out?” or “What if there was a fire?”.
  • Have you reviewed your rules on answering the phone or the door if you are not home?
  • What are your rules about having friends over?
  • Does your child show an interest or confidence in staying home alone?
  • If your child will be watching a sibling, do they get along?
  • Will a younger sibling respect the rules and authority of the older sibling?
  • Does your child know what to do if they become injured while home alone?
  • Can your child lock and unlock the door to your home?
  • Is your child physically capable and physically healthy enough to stay home alone?
  • What specific dangers might your child face? Would they know how to handle them?

Common parent myths and missteps:

  • Telling your child to not answer the door. When you  are not home, your child  should not OPEN the door but should always “ACKNOWLEDGE” the door by answering through the locked door, in a loud voice “Who is it? “I can’t help you” and then just walk away. You just want to make sure that the person on the on the other side of the door knows someone is home. If someone is casing your home to rob it, the last thing you want is for them to think your home is empty and to then have your child find themselves in a home invasion.
  • No Friends over. Some kids do better when they have a home alone buddy. If there is an emergency, both kids can work together to make a safe decision.
  • Older Siblings make great built in babysitters: Staying home alone is a big deal for many kids and it often takes some time for them to get the hang of knowing what to do and feeling confident being home alone. It is often best to wait 6-12 months before leaving an older child home with a younger sibling. This waiting period can be even longer if the younger sibling is an infant or toddler, if the younger sibling is hard to manage, has special needs or may not respect the family safety rules or if the siblings don’t have a history of getting along.
  • Daytime home alone is the same as nighttime home alone readiness: It is common for kids to be comfortable being home alone during the day but nighttime home alone readiness might not happen for a while. This is normal and time and confidence will help them prepare for being home alone after dark.


Be clear about your expectations before you leave. Leave a list of emergency contact numbers for your child and go over a list of homes or businesses they can go to if they need to seek help. When you return home make sure to ask how things went and if there is anything that can be done next time to improve the experience for both of you.


About the Author:  Kim Estes is the owner of Savvy Parents Safe Kids and has worked with parents for over 15 years, educating them on various parenting topics. Kim is a certified prevention educator through the National Security Alliance, the Kid Safe Network and is a Darkness 2 Light facilitator. As a Child Safety Expert, Kim has appeared on local and national TV and Radio shows, helping to raise awareness on the importance of prevention education. For more information about her work or to schedule a workshops go to:  www.savvyparentsafekids.com

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It’s the start of the new school year and for most kids and parents, it’s an exciting time!  It’s about reuniting with friends, meeting the teacher, and shopping for school supplies.  For nearly 23 million children, it also means riding the bus.  According to NHTSA, http://www.nhtsa.gov/School-Buses school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in the U.S.  Nonetheless, there are several things we can teach our kids that will ensure safe travel to and from school.  Here are a few school bus safety tips.

The Bus Stop

  • Leave plenty of time to get to the bus stop.  Don’t run, and stay on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the left, facing traffic.  Plan to arrive 5 minutes before your designated pick time.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings.  Don’t be distracted by using handheld games or listening to music on headphones.
  • Once at the bus stop, stay a safe distance from the street.  No running or playing around.
  • Do not talk to any strangers or get in their car.  Immediately alert a parent or a known adult if a stranger tries to talk to you or tries to pick you up.
  • Wait for the bus to arrive and the stop sign to be extended.  Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop and the driver tells you it is safe to get on board.
  • Always remain 10 steps away from the bus where the driver can see you.  Never go behind the bus.
  • Keep all of your loose items in your backpack.  Ask the driver for help if you drop something.

 On the Bus

  • Once on the bus, go directly to your seat and sit facing forward.  Always remain seated when the bus is moving.
  • Do not stick your head or hands out the bus window.  Never throw anything out of the bus.
  • Talk quietly and always respect the bus driver.  Follow all of their instructions.
  • Keep the aisles and emergency exits clear.  Keep your backpack on your lap.

Exiting The Bus

  • Only get off on your designated stop.  Do not go home with friends unless it has been prearranged with your parents and the school.
  • When you exit the bus take 5 giant steps (10 feet) away from the bus.  Stay away from the bus and look for cars.
  • If you drop something, alert the bus driver before trying to retrieve it.  If you forget something on the bus, do not attempt to go back to the bus as the driver may not see you and the bus may start moving.
  • Always cross the street in front of the bus.  Never go behind it.

For Parents

  • Whenever possible, walk your child to and from the bus stop.  Wait for the child to be safely on the bus before leaving.
  • Introduce yourself and your child to the bus driver.  Schools usually provide plenty of assistance at the beginning of the year to make sure kids get on the correct bus after school, but knowing the bus driver will help reassure your child that they are on the right bus.
  • Report any concerns about the safety of the operator or the bus to school officials.

Looking for a fun way to teach your kids about school bus safety?  Check out the Pennsylvania DOT activity booklet that includes crossword puzzles, coloring pages and word searches to reinforce the safety message.

Riding the bus can be fun, but for young children, it can be a little scary until you get in a routine.

The buses for elementary and middle school run close together in my neighborhood.  Years ago on the second day of school, I put my son on the bus in the morning, only to get a call a half hour later from the school letting me know that he had boarded the middle school bus and not the one that would take him to the elementary school.  He was a big 4th grader so the bus driver didn’t notice.  My son laughs about it today, but back then it left us both a bit shaken.  After that we were much more diligent about identifying both the driver and the bus number.

About the Author, Marcia Ensley 

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Back to school preparation has started. We are spending lots of money, and endless hours, shopping for clothes, back packs and other back to school essentials. We fret over how to prepare healthy lunches and snacks. We update forms and we make appointments for haircuts and check ups.

Yet, we often overlook updating our tweens safety skills.

I wish adults would fret a bit more about their child’s safety health. That we would update and replace old safety skills with the promptness that we replace worn backpacks and outgrown clothing.

The “Tween” years are defined as those years “in between”. They are not little kids anymore but are not teenagers either. The ages of 8-12 represents a huge leap for kids and their parents. Back to school is a critical time to review and replace your tweens growing safety needs. Plan ahead now and your won’t be as likely to be caught off guard later.

Here are some basic tween safety skills that parents should be thinking about, talking about and practicing with their tween:

Checking In:  Tweens start to crave more independence from their parents and most noticeably parents will no longer be hanging out with their Tween at play-dates (oh, I was also informed by my Tween that they no longer refer to them as “play dates” either). Tweens will often start wanting to explore their neighborhood without a grown up tagging along.  This can be nerve wracking for parents but this kind of independence is a normal developmental milestone for tweens. Start practicing having your child “Check in” if the plan changes while they are at a friends house or if they are out and about in the neighborhood. Checking in helps you know and understand what they are doing and with whom.

Role Play:  Your tween will begin to experience more risky peer situations. Even if your child is a “rule follower” or has “good friends” or is “active in school, church or sports” they are going to experience risky peer situations where they may be asked to break the rules or your tween will be with peers who ARE breaking the rules or engaging in risk taking behaviors. Help give your Tween some good scripts on how to get out of these situations, present different scenarios that may happen and help them have tools and an escape plan to get them out of the situation. Also, let your Tween know that they can still come to you after the fact and talk to you about what happened.

Safety to and from School: Your Tween may want to start walking home from school and/or the bus stop. Evaluate your Tweens readiness by making sure they are able to stick to a regular (and populated) path. Will they come straight home or become distracted? What are the specific risks to your child? Traffic, high crime area, busy street to cross? Only YOU can determine if your child is ready to go it alone or with a buddy. If you have decided that they can start walking to and from school on their own, make sure that you practice a preferred route, identify homes and /or businesses they can go to if they need assistance. Take a buddy whenever possible and remind them to NEVER approach or get into a car with anyone, even if they know the person, without checking in first with you.

Asking questions: This is the time for parents to  really step up their game and start asking more thoughtful and engaged questions about what is happening in their Tweens life.  When your child is going to be spending time with other families, be sure to ask “what is the plan?” and “who will be watching the kids?”.  Some Tweens at this age are seasoned at staying home alone. Others are not.  The same goes for movies, games and internet access. Your comfort level about kids being home alone and your family rules about internet access and games may not be the same as someone else. If you have concerns, then talk to the adult in charge about your concerns. Also be thoughtful in asking your child open ended questions about their day, their interests and what their plan is when they are going to a friends house.

As a parent of Tween and a full fledged teenager, I can fully attest to the fact that the more we talked about safety expectations for back to school, the better things went. Tweens will test boundaries, rules will be broken, there will be many opportunities to discuss how things could be handled differently next time. Yet, by the end of the school year, in spite of some uncomfortable moments and deep pits in my stomach, we got through. We learned that the safety net we provided at the beginning of the school year was the most powerful investment we made in our back to school preparations.

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Summer Safety Strategies for All!

Spring is here. The weather can be fickle one moment offering us a promise of summer with a warm sunny day or bringing us rain clouds that seem more like we are in October still. As our days grow longer and the weather eventually gives way to sunny skies, we will be drawn to the outdoors and all the great adventures that summer has to offer. This is a great time to look at how your family’s safety needs have changed since last summer and begin to talk with your children about summer safety.

Ages 2-5

  • Practice learning their phone number in case they get lost or separated from you
  • Practice finding a safe mom (or other grown up) with kids if they need assistance
  • Remind kids to make sure they have their safe grown up with them when talking to new people!

Age 6-9

  • Review healthy boundaries and let them know that is it is OK to say “NO!” if someone is making them uncomfortable.
  • Remind them to check in before taking off around the block on their bike or skateboard.
  • Talk about who the safe grown ups are in their life
  • Never accept a ride from ANYONE (even if you know them!) without checking in first.

Ages 10-13

  • Start looking at their readiness to stay home alone for short periods of time
  • If you are considering a cell phone for your child, summer is a great time to “practice” having this new tool and it will also allow for some of the novelty to wear off before school begins in the fall.
  • Remind them to take a buddy with them when they are out and about in the neighborhood.
  • Never accept a ride from ANYONE (even if you know them!) without checking in first.

As always, continue to keep the conversation going with your kids and never use scare tactics when talking about safety. Keeping the conversation simple and short is best

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I try to post a little safety nugget on my Savvy Parents Safe Kids Facebook Page every day. Today’s tip was this:

Let your children know that sometimes, they may have to ask several adults for help before they actually get the help they need. Teach your child that it is OK to move on to another adult if the first (or second or third) adult cannot (or does not) help them when they are asking for help. You would be very surprised at how many parents “blow off”, “dismiss” or don’t even give a child the chance to express their concerns. Adults will often dismiss a child for “tattling” or “making things up” or “being mistaken”.
After I posted the tip, it got me to thinking about how as a society we are continually surprised when adults often ignore red flags, dismiss their gut feelings when something is clearly wrong and are terrified to speak up and SAY SOMETHING. ANYTHING. That is, until something REALLY BAD happens. Then it’s too late.

We should not be surprised, as we have conditioned entire generations with the notion that “tattling” is very bad. So don’t do it. Ever. This kind of thinking is exactly what criminals thrive on to keep committing their crimes. Criminals count on you to not report suspicious activity, to be afraid to follow your gut and to be embarrassed to speak up. Even worse? They count on you to dismiss a child’s concern or fear. We have conditioned people to be afraid to speak up.

What we need to do is help kids (and adults) understand the difference between tattling just to get someone in trouble versus reporting potentially unsafe behavior. We need to teach children and adults to become listeners and not dis-missers. That being empowered is more important than being embarrassed.

I have told both my children that they can go to as many adults as needed to get help. If that fails, they should call me immediately. Once, during a play date, one of my kids was being de-panted by another kid. Repeatedly. My child went to several moms to complain. Every single mom told my child “Now, don’t be a tattler” or to “just go back and tell them to stop”, “go work it out on your own, I don’t want to hear tattling” or the worst…. “Well what do you expect if you get them all riled up by playing rough?”. Seriously.

I got a phone call immediately.

You would think that by all the opinions and sharing that people do on social media that we would not be afraid to speak up but sadly, when it comes to really standing up and speaking up in person, many people just can’t do it.

I know that when we are raising kids it can get old hearing a child continually telling/tattling on other kids. I get it. However, we need to guide and teach kids the difference between tattling on someone to just for the sake of getting that person in trouble versus teaching a child to be a responsible mandatory reporter for safety. Kids who learn to be responsible reporters become adults who will listen to concerns and understand the importance of being a mandatory reporter.

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When Recess Gets Raunchy…

Yep. Everybody loves to share exciting news. Kids especially love to share news that covers off limit topics, like sex. I was officially basking in completing day 1 of the new school year when my young daughter shared with me that an older kid had told her about what a “Blow out” was. Of course what she was describing was not really a “Blow out”. She had the words mixed up. It did not take me long to figure out they were NOT talking about hair do’s or car tires.

Poker face. Poker face. Poker face.

My daughter was grossed out, but not traumatized by this new revelation. We have talked on a regular basis about body safety. She knew that our family safety rule was to come talk to a grown up if ANYONE, even another kid, talks to her about sex (because sex is NOT FOR KIDS, as she reminded me), talks to her about bathing suit areas (hers or theirs) or shows her their bathing suit areas or asks to see her bathing suit area – which are private.  I made sure that she was OK and had not been physically touched. She was mostly curious about this new information and completely grossed out. As she should be at her age.

Thankfully, she did come to talk to me right away and I thanked her for telling me what happened. Her immediate concern? Am I in trouble? Is my friend going to be in trouble?  “Nope!” I assured her. We reviewed our safety rules and I told her that I would talk to the child’s parents so they could help that child learn more about safety rules regarding private and/or “family information”.

Phone calls were made, everybody was calm. Sample scripts were shared on ways to talk to kids about how some topics (like “blow outs”) are not for kids.

Now that your kids are back in school, take time to review your family safety rules and make sure your child knows that their bathing suit areas are private and other peoples bathing suit areas are private and that includes talking about bathing suit areas in a sexual way.

At the end of the evening, my daughter smiled and patted me lightly on the arm and said “I am so glad nobody in our family does blow outs”. Oh boy.

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When we hear news stories about missing kids it is terrifying. There is a part of us that makes us hesitant to ever let our kids outside, ever again! However, we know that is not realistic (or healthy). It is our job to help our kids learn how to navigate their world safely. This means lots of talks about safety over and over again.

Taking a long bike ride with your friends is a normal thing for kids to do in the summer. It should be a normal part of being a kid regardless of the time of year! Yet, summertime beckons us to explore and have fun. On Friday afternoon Lyric Cook (10 years old) and her cousin Elizabeth Collins (8 years old) asked their grandmother if they could go for a short bike ride together. The Grandmother said yes, and off they went. Sadly, in this case, Lyric andElizabethnever returned and now their names and faces are all over the national news.

Authorities say there is no indication of a struggle or foul play. The girls’ bikes were found in a bushy area near the shoreline ofMeyersLake, along with their backpacks. Authorities are now wondering if the girls had run into trouble when they decided to take a swim in the lake.

As a Child Safety Expert, I talk about safety all the time with my family (to the point that they are sick of it.. trust me). Yet, these chilling news stories continue to be a reminder that the responsibility of talking about safety to our kids is never done.

When we talk about safety with our children it is so important that we talk about many types of “What If” situations with our kids. Teaching our children about “stranger smarts” is only one aspect. Water safety, practicing the buddy system, staying on the designated route, street/car safety and using the check in system should all be included in your safety talks.

If your children are going to be spending time out and about in the neighborhood, be sure to discuss your safety expectations with them. Review safety rules with your child on a regular basis and also as they are heading out on an adventure.

Here are some sample safety tips to talk about with your child as they head out the door:

  • Set boundaries! Be specific on how far your child can travel by bike or foot.
  • Be very clear about water safety (e.g. “I know it is hot outside but I do not want you to go swimming in the lake/pond/pool without an adult”)
  • Remind them: do not get into a car with ANYONE, even if they know them.
  • Call and check in if the plan changes. (Having a designated “safety cell phone” that kids can use just when they are out exploring, etc).
  • Have your child list out the homes and/or businesses they can go to if they need help.

Do your child (and yourself) a favor, give your child some new safety tools TODAY By sitting down and talking about your family safety rules. Keep talking about safety. Don’t wait until the next tragic news story before you talk about safety again.

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Your Kids and Camp. Is Everyone Ready?

As summer rolls closer… here are questions to consider before you sign up for that camp, before you hire that nanny, before you take that vacation.

  • What is the camp’s policy on training and screening volunteers and staff?
  • Are the counselors and staff trained in CPR?
  • Does the camp have a nurse or doctor on staff for emergencies?
  • What is the reporting system for employees if something happens (abuse, suspicion or injury)
  • What is their policy on how children are picked up and dropped off each day (ensuring the correct person is picking them up)?
  • Do they have a policy on prohibiting alone (or closed door) one on one time between adult and child?
  • Who will be caring for your child? Take time to meet the counselors and staff who will be watching your child.
  • Ask to tour the facility.
  • Check camp references.
  • If transportation is provided, make sure the vehicle is properly outfitted with safety belts and up to date car seats.
  • Check to see if there have been any complaints or write ups about the facility, from parents or the state agencies.
  • How can your child contact you if they need to?

Want to know about Red Flags to watch out for? How about YOUR child’s readiness? Download the full safety Camp Safety Sheet Summer Camp Safety

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Don’t Rely on Luck to Keep Your Kids Safe

By Kim Estes

 At Savvy Parents Safe Kids, we don’t use scary tactics in our workshops but the truth is there are scary statistics on the number of kids who are being sexually abused right now in your community. It makes me so sad to hear a parent come up after a workshop and say “I wish my mom had taken a workshop like this. She could have protected me”. I am however glad those same parents are being proactive in learning about safety for their kids and not relying on luck to keep their children safe. It only takes a few minutes a day to let you child know that their safety is important. It could be playing the “what if” game in the car or just reminding them that they have the right to say no to anyone who is trying to bully them into breaking a family safety rule. Openness about safety leads to open conversations when things are bothering them.

 At Savvy Parents Safe kids, we know that prevention education is the key to keeping the children in our communities’ safe. Here are some easy beginning tips to help you start talking about safety with your loved ones!

  •  Start  early and often! Kids as young as one, can learn to point out a “Safe mom      with kids”. Make a game of it! Be silly! Have fun finding “safe moms”. Get them familiar with the concept that a “safe mom” will help them if they      ever get separated from you.
  •  Teach young kids to “sing” your cell number
  •  Teach children to never, EVER leave with someone they don’t know (this could be an adult or another child).
  • Remind children to “Check first” before accepting gifts or rides from anyone!
  • Model “Safe Grown Up” behavior. Set an example of safety for children. If your  child (or a child you know) is not checking first before accepting  something from you, be the “Safe Grown –Up” who will remind them to “Check  First” with their safe grown up.

About the Author:  Kim Estes is the owner of Savvy Parents Safe Kids and has worked with parents for over 15 years, educating them on various parenting topics. Kim is a certified prevention educator through the National Security Alliance, the Kid Safe Network and is a Darkness 2 Light facilitator. As a Child Safety Expert, Kim has appeared on local and national TV and Radio shows, helping to raise awareness on the importance of prevention education. For more information about her work or to schedule a workshops go to:  www.savvyparentsafekids.com

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Ready or not, here they come: The holidays. Along with the holiday season come the relatives and the insane schedules.

Even though the holidays are stressful, safety conversations with your child shouldn’t be. However, with recent news reports, parents are concerned and safety is on everyone’s mind. Now is the time to take a moment BEFORE things get too crazy hectic and time becomes too short, to talk to your family and create some common sense safety tips.

Safety while shopping

•Have a designated spot (e.g., a sales counter) to meet older kids if you get separated.
•Younger children should know to look for a “mom with kids” if they get lost and need to ask someone for help.
•Have younger kids practice your name and cell phone number.
•Remind kids never to leave the store, no matter what!
•Older kids should always take a friend when going to the mall and not leave the mall with anyone.
•Kids need to check first with you before going anywhere or accepting gifts.
•Never leave children unattended in a vehicle, stores, arcades, or playgrounds.

Safety during holiday parties

•Let your child chose who they wish to show affection to. Do not force them to kiss, hug or sit on someone’s lap (Santa alert!). Kids need to know they have power over their own bodies.
•Check in on kids during large gatherings. Have each adult take 20 minute “shifts” to do a quick walk through the house/yard and check on the kids to make sure that they are doing OK
•Kids should check first with a parent before going off with someone (e.g. to play video games in a bedroom or leaving the house to go play)
•If someone is making your child uncomfortable, such as with excessive tickling, hugging or wrestling, intervene on your child’s behalf to end the behavior. Your child needs to know that you will protect them.
Safety conversations with your child will be better received when you keep them short and simple. Never use scare tactics. There will be lots of interaction with family and friends, new experiences and new places. Take time to practice “what if” scenarios with your kids Taking time to talk safety with your kids will take some of the anxiety out of your holidays.

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