More and more parents work outside the home. Many school age children in the US are left alone for at least part of the day. Children who come home to an empty house after school are also called latchkey kids.
For many parents, leaving a child home alone for part of the day may seem like the best option. It can be a way to save money on child care. It can also help children develop independence and self-confidence. However, make sure that you think through all the options, and know that your child is ready for this kind of responsibility.
Children left home alone are more likely to be the victims of crimes. Afternoons are also the times when children are most likely to commit crimes such as shoplifting or vandalism. Unsupervised children and teens are also more likely to use drugs, drink alcohol, smoke, and engage in sexual activity.
Latchkey children are more likely to feel lonely, bored, or scared. Some get depressed. It helps to have a neighbor or friend that your child can visit sometimes. It also helps to keep your child busy with homework, chores, or other activities.
Check with your employer to see if you could work a flexible schedule. This could allow you to be home with your child after school. Many companies have child care centers for the employees' children. If not, you could suggest they start one.
If money is a concern, see if a grandparent or other relative could take care of your child. You might be able to set up a parenting co-op where parents take turns caring for the children. You might also be able to find other working parents to share the costs of hiring a babysitter to come to your home.
You might look into tutoring, school clubs, sports, or volunteer activities for your child. Many schools have after school programs. If your school doesn't, check with your PTA, school, or place of worship to see if they can get a program started. You can also check into programs offered through Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA's, libraries, health clubs, and Parks and Recreation Departments.
If you are thinking about leaving your child home alone regularly, the most important thing for you to know is that your child is ready. Here are some of the things for you to consider:
Call your child each day to be sure she has arrived home safely and that everything is OK. Let her know if you will be a few minutes late so that she doesn’t worry. Check with your child regularly to see how she feels about being home alone. Ask her to let you know about anything that scares her or makes her feel uncomfortable. Thank your child for helping with chores and tell her that you are proud of her.