When you are home alone and there is a knock at the door, what do you do?
When you hurt yourself, what do you do?
The lights go out, what do you do?
Strangers at the door, injuries and household emergencies can be threatening and potentially dangerous to thousands of "latchkey" children in the Washington area who are home alone.
About 20 Girl Scouts from the Nation's Capital Council and eight of their mothers got answers to these questions on Saturday when they attended a "Home Alone" workshop sponsored by Greater Southeast Community Hospital.
"Teaching kids is your primary responsibility as parents, but parents often don't know what they're supposed to be teaching," said Sallie Eissler, 31, a child health specialist at the hospital, who taught the two-hour course at Rock Creek Church, located at Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street NW.
Eissler said she initiated the program in October after a rash of child molesting incidents occurred at some area schools. Eissler teaches the course twice a month in Prince George's County, but she will give the course to any interested group.
Martha Roache, 43, a counselor at Whittier Elementary School in the District, and a volunteer parent with the Girl Scouts, organized Saturday's workshop because of growing concern among parents about security around the schools. Roache attended the workshop with her 11-year-old daughter.
Eissler began the session by giving the scouts, who ranged in age from 6 to 17, a test to find out how they felt when they were home alone and how much they already knew about taking care of themselves and their siblings when their parents were away.
"When you're home alone, how do you feel?" Eissler asked.
"Scared!" came the answer in unison.
Sheree Harris, 9, one of the children said, "When people come to the door, I get scared sometimes because they are weird people I don't know."
Eissler advised: "Look through the peep hole, and if there is no peep hole, they are easy to put in." She added, "There are some people you can let in and some you can't. Talk to your parents about it."
Later, Eissler said an unsupervised child should not open the door to strangers even if it has a chain lock. Call the police if the person does not go away, she advised.
"What do you do for a burn?" Eissler asked.
"Put butter on it," several scouts answered.
"No," Eissler said shaking her head. She explained that butter and its salt irritates the burn.
"Go over to the sink and run cold water on it," said Eissler. "This cools off your skin so the burn doesn't get worse and makes it hurt less."
If the lights go out, Eissler told the girls never to light a candle because it could start a fire. Use a flashlight instead, she said.
Eissler has made up her own first aid and emergency kit for children left alone. It is a large plastic bag that contains: a flashlight with bulbs and batteries, soap, band-aids, an ACE bandage, a pillow, a plastic bag for ice, a transitor radio with batteries, and an envelope with taxi money or bus fare.
Erica Bigelow, 11, and her sister Kimberly, 9, said they learned a lot about how to handle injuries from the workshop. They now know how to care for a broken limb with a pillow and a bag of ice until help arrives.
Each girl got a board on which to write important names and phone numbers for emergencies and several recipes they could "cook" without a stove.
Parents also got advice. Eissler said the children should have duties to perform while alone. "I hadn't thought about giving her duties while she's alone, making a list of things she can and can't do while she's alone," said Alberta Harris, 43, Sheree's mother, after the course.
Renee Clauselle, 11, said she liked being home alone because she had the whole house to herself. "I have a snack, play with my dog and talk on the phone," said Clauselle. Then with a little prompting from her mother Ruth, the seventh grader added, "And I do my homework."