A Latchkey kid is any child who returns from school to an empty house because both parents are still working. The number of latchkey kids is on the rise due to the downturn economy and the necessity of two-income households, as well as single parents and guardians. If you wonder whether or not your child is ready to be home alone, consider the following:
At What Age Can a Child Be Left at Home Alone?
Dr. Phil says the general rule is that children should not be left unsupervised for any length of time before the age of 12. But it really depends on the child and the laws in your state.
Is Your Child Ready?
To determine if your child is ready to be left on his or her own, consider their age and maturity level. Is your child generally responsible or impulsive? How do they do when making decisions under pressure? Does he or she seem confident for the responsibility of taking care of themselves? Will they be watching over a younger sibling as well? Can they handle that added responsibility? Is your child capable of following your rules and safety precautions? Do they know what to do in case of emergency? Parents must make an informed decision on a case-by-case basis.
What Are the House Rules?
To prepare your child for being home alone, establish and go through your house rules and expectations. Discuss what the acceptable activities are for him or her during that time alone. Will they do their homework? Are there any chores? Is TV allowed? What about the computer? Are there channels and Web sites off limits? (There should be! Are they blocked?) Can your child have friends over while you're not there? Can they leave the house to go to a friend's house? Can they reach you while they are home?
Go over safety precautions: Teach them to keep the doors locked at all times. Do they know about "stranger danger"? Do they know how to call 911? Do they know several numbers to reach you, including a landline? Do they know their home address and important phone numbers? Do they know the contact information of trustworthy neighbors or responsible adults nearby? Do you want them to answer the phone while you are gone? How will they answer the phone or the door if a stranger calls asking for you? What do they do if there's a fire? (Use this as an opportunity to go over emergency evacuation drills.) What do they do if someone is trying to get into the house?
Make a list of the house rules and safety tips and post them somewhere the child can access and reference.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Role-play how you want them to respond to and handle emergencies. When you feel confident they understand your rules and what to do, practice several dry runs. Go to a neighbor's house for a short period of time and see how your child does. Throw him or her a curve ball and have a friend call the house or knock on the door and ask for you.
Consider the Dangers
Make your home childproof: Make sure all medications, alcohol and firearms are locked up. Take a look around and determine what your child could potentially get into that could cause harm. Consider kitchen appliances like gas stoves. Will cooking be off-limits until you get home?
Ask Yourself Again: Is Your Child Ready?
After the above steps, assess whether your child seems confidant he or she can stay at home. If there is hesitation or fear, hire a babysitter and reconsider this issue in six months. Remember, even if you child seems confident, mistakes can still be made. Be sure to give your child a lot of encouragement and treat mistakes as learning experiences instead of failures. Make sure your child knows he or she can always come to you with fears or concerns and that you appreciate their self-reliance while you are away.