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If you're parenting a latchkey kid, you need to teach him or her self-care skills, set rules and limits and talk about basic safety information. If you must leave your kids home alone, set and discuss routines they must follow (house chores, homework, pets, visiting friends or having friends over, answering the door, etc).

The National Crime Prevention Council suggests all parents teach their children to:

  • Memorize their name and address, including city and state
  • Memorize their phone numbers (home and/or cell), including area code
  • Use both push-button and rotary dial phones to make local, long distance, 411 and 911 calls or to reach the operator
  • Check in with you or a neighbor immediately after arriving home
  • Never go into the home if a door is ajar or a window is broken
  • Operate doors and window locks
  • Answer the doorbell and phone safely
  • Never go into anyone else's home without your permission
  • Avoid walking or playing alone
  • Understand that a stranger is someone neither you nor they know well
  • Run to the nearest public place, neighbor or safe house if they feel they're being followed, either on foot or by a car
  • Tell you if anyone asks them to keep a secret, offers them gifts or money or asks to take their picture
  • Always tell you if something happened when they were away from you that made them feel uncomfortable in any way



     You work forty or more hours a week. You'd love to devote more time to your children, but you have to support them. What can you do to ensure that your children are guided effectively when they get home from school and you're not there? Read on for a few quick tips that can help.

1. Hire a babysitter. When doing this, you want someone who can provide a nurturing afternoon for your children. The person must be able to devote time to helping with homework. Utilize background checks and ask questions such as, "What sort of educational support can you offer my child?" If you have to go through a nanny agency, do not hesitate to do so. Make sure you lay down the rules with the sitter, so he or she knows what should and should not be happening. Also ensure that your sitter knows your discipline policies and enforces them.

2. Lay down the law! Sitter or not, children should have some rules to be followed. You want to make sure they do not get home from school and decide to snack on everything under the sun. Leave out snacks or instruct them what is alright to eat until you get home to fix dinner. Also make sure they know when they are supposed to do homework. Usually right after they get home is the best time, after a ten minute rest. Let them know who can come over to the house and who cannot. Television is a big must, when it comes to rules. Make sure they know what they can and cannot watch. And even the computer should be monitored. If they are allowed on, make sure that you have a program on it to ensure they are not on any inappropriate sites.

3. Check into latchkey programs. Many schools now offer after-school programs where tutors help children with their homework and allow them to play, while observed. This is great for working parents because the school district is responsible and usually pretty trustworthy to work with.

4. Utilize the phone. Have them call you to check in or you can call them when they get home to make sure everything is okay. You can also have a check-in time later on during the afternoon so you are sure they are there, and safe.

5. Go over safety rules, even if you have a sitter. Where's the fire extinguisher? Who's the emergency contact? Is there a first aid kit? Which locks need to be checked? Make a list of things you need to go over with the children and/or the sitter so you are sure they are aware of all of the safety precautions.

6. Spend time with them when you get home! Let them know that you care, even when you cannot be there. Most children understand parents' schedules so long as the parent doesn't bring work or a bad attitude home with them.

By taking the time to go over simple rules and regulations, and ensuring your children are in safe hands, you can rest assured that your children are in safe hands.




Large numbers of children in this country come home after school to empty apartments and houses. These children, often called "latchkey kids", are responsible for their own well-being and entertainment during these hours. Many working parents find this a source of considerable anxiety and worry.  Before allowing a child to stay home alone or care for younger siblings, parents need to be aware of the guidelines for child supervision in their community. Typically, these guidelines take into account a variety of factors, including but not limited to, a child's age, mental, emotional and physical development. It is important to note that guidelines vary from county to county. For example, it may be acceptable to leave children ages 9 to 11 home alone for up to one and a half hours in one county, while a neighboring county requires the child to be at least 12 years old. If you are unsure whether your child is ready for self-care, or meets community guidelines, contact your EAP counselor or school counselor.

If your child is ready for self-care, there are many ways you can help him or her have safer and more positive experiences after school. The following are some ideas and suggestions.

Safety First   Check your home thoroughly for safety risks. Post a list of emergency numbers near each telephone. Assemble a first-aid kit with your children's help. Develop and practice fire escape plans.

Arriving Home   Require your children to take the same route to and from school each day. Counsel them to come directly home. If possible, have them walk with friends. Establish a check-in routine so a responsible adult knows of their arrival. If your child checks in with you at work, develop a back-up system in case you are unavailable.

When Approached By A Stranger   Discuss with your children how to respond to strangers. Have children practice saying "NO!" and getting away from a stranger. Don't have children carry bags or other items with their names printed on them, or wear keys in a visible place.

Practice Situations   Sit down and talk with your children about how they would handle different situations. Have children practice what they should do if:

  • They loose their key
  • Someone they don't know or expect knocks at the door
  • They receive a prank telephone call
  • A sibling gets injured or feels sick

Discuss and practice as many "what ifs?" as your family can think of.

Dealing With Boredom   Children often become bored, no matter what their after-school arrangements are. Have your child make a list of activities. Suggest books to read or introduce them to public television. Help them get involved with a hobby or pen pal writing.

Dealing With Loneliness   Feeling lonely is not uncommon for children who stay home alone, especially after being in a classroom full of other children. Talk with your children about their lonely feelings. Make sure they understand why you are not at home. If possible, arrange for a visit at your office. Have an approved friend come over to play. Leave your child notes in surprise places. Consider a pet if your child is mature enough to care for one.

Rules Are Important   Establish rules and guidelines so expectations for your children are clear. Set limits on what they can do, such as playing outside or using household appliances. Assign household chores, considering age appropriate tasks. Designate time for homework and play activities.



(The following is taken from How to Say It to Your Kids, by Dr. Paul Coleman.)

Gabriel said she didn't mind being home alone after school. During the two hours she waited for her father to arrive home from work, the 12-year-old usually did her homework or watched television. She was good at monitoring the answering machine and not opening the door to just anybody who happened to knock. She liked the sense of being trustworthy and the feeling of independence that came with being home alone. Her best friend, Cindy, didn't like being home alone after school. She understood the necessity of it, but she often felt afraid. On winter days when it was dark outside by 4 p.m., she grew more frightened. With two out of three mothers of school-age kids in the workforce, latchkey kids are growing in numbers and total about seven million at last count. Helping them adapt depends on several factors.

Things to Consider

  • While some kids may do fine being home alone, no study of "self-care" has shown it to have positive outcomes. The most optimistic reports conclude it has no negative outcomes.
  • Children who are on their own for at least 11 hours a week are twice as likely to use alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs.
  • Kids (fifth- to seventh-graders) home alone more than two days a week were four times as likely to report getting drunk in the past month.
  • Self-care is more risky in urban environments than in suburban.
  • Some kids stay with friends under adult supervision. Others use their free time after school to "hang out" with peers. The latter group is at higher risk for trouble than the former.
  • Girls without supervision tend to be more at risk for problems than boys of the same age. That is probably due to the fact that girls develop physically at an earlier age and are more apt to hang out with older teens.
  • A study that compared college students who were former latchkey kids with nonlatchkey kids showed no difference between the groups in personality or academics.
  • A survey of 18 pediatricians, 96 police officers, and 209 parents asked at what ages kids can be left alone without supervision. For 15 minutes or less, the average age given was 9. For an hour or more, the age was 12. For babysitting, the age was 14.
  • When more than one child is left alone, the children are likely to behave somewhat more disruptively or ignore each other than when a parent is present.
  • Authoritarian parents (attentive, warm, but firm about discipline) are a buffer against a child conforming with antisocial peers (during and after school) compared with inattentive or more permissive parents. Tough but loving parents, take heart: You have the right idea.



How to Say It

Most kids are inadequately prepared to avoid injuries (burns, cuts, etc.), deal with emergencies, handle phone calls or visitors at the door, or cope with kidnapping or molestation possibilities. TEACH them what to say or do and rehearse with them.

  • "Listen to the answering machine and don't pick up the phone unless it is someone you know well. Always say, 'Mom is busy at the moment,' and take a message."
  • "Call 911 if you have any doubt about what to do. Here are the phone numbers for the neighbors who will be home."
  • "The first-aid kit is always in the bathroom. Let's review how to use some of those items."
  • Discuss ahead of time what your child plans to do when he arrives home. You should always know your child's home schedule. "Your plan is to make a sandwich, do your homework, and maybe play a video game. I'll call you and check in."