Did you give birth to a Latch Key Child? Schools are back in session and some parents will be leaving their children alone for several hours after school for many reasons. Some parents are single mothers who can’t afford the expense of child care, many families have both parents working outside the home, others because their children are old enough to take care of themselves for several hours and than we have those who can’t find after school care. What ever the reason, there are approximately 15 million Latch Key Children in the U.S. so don’t feel that you’re a bad parent or that you’re alone in your decision.
My daughter was around 10 when she became a latch key child. I’ve always hated that term, but it is what it is. I was a single mother at the time and I was trying to purchase a home. I was saving every penny that I could, so I asked my daughter if she thought she could stay alone for several hours to cut out child care expense and she jumped at the opportunity. The bus stop was 500 yards from my front door and I had neighbors that would step in if there was an emergency. I felt guilty initially, but I realized that I wasn’t the only parent who had a latch key child. I soon released the guilt and became comfortable with my decision.
Many parents question the appropriate age for leaving children unattended. The ages vary from state to state, so if you’re considering leaving your child alone be sure to check out the legal ramifications. You will also have to assess your child’s maturity level and their ability to follow directions as well as the safety of your neighborhood. Think about the time frame that your child will be alone. If it’s more than a few hours, you may want to find another option in my opinion. My daughter was home for 2 hours before I arrived. That was the longest 2 hours of my life.
We decided to do a trial run and if we were comfortable we would implement the plan. Here are the safety tips that worked for us:
1. Rules Must Be Established – No friends over, do not answer the phone or door unless it’s for people who are checking on them, do not leave the home to play in the neighborhood etc. It’s also important that your child understand that they can’t tell people that they’re home alone and why. It’s imperative that your child understand the rules.
2. Establish a Routine – You must give your child a routine. In my home it was to come straight home, let me know that she was home and that start on her To Do List. Today there are nanny cams and home monitoring devices that allow you to see what’s happening in the home while you’re at the office. There are also devices that allow you to turn off the alarm system remotely and reset it once your child gets inside the home. Skyping is a great idea too if it’s allowed in your office.
3. Create a To Do List – Keeping your child occupied is important, they won’t have time to think too much about being alone. I created a list of things for my daughter to do once she arrived. She could get a snack, no cooking allowed, and turn on the television, radio etc. Yes, sound is nice here. Homework had to be completed and her room orderly before I got home. If homework was completed, she could watch her favorite movies or television show.
4. Establish Emergency Procedures – .Make sure your child knows to call 911 if an emergency arrives and has a list of phone numbers for neighbors or relatives who are close by. My neighbor agreed to check on my daughter as well and my daughter knew that she could go next door if needed.
5. Give Lots of Hugs and Praise – Let your child know that they’re doing a great job following the rules and how much you appreciate the fact that they’re growing up and helping to contribute to the household by being responsible. Children love praise and they deserve it.
The experience actually build confidence in my daughter. It also made her understand responsibility and the importance of following directions. Did you raise a latch key child or do you currently have one? What were some of the rules that you implemented? They could be of benefit to other parents.