More and more parents work outside the home. One third of all school age children in the United States are left alone for at least part of the week. Children who come home to an empty house after school are called latchkey children.
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 cigarettes, and engage in sexual activity.
Latchkey children are more likely to feel lonely, bored, or scared. Some become depressed. It helps to have a neighbor or friend that the child can visit sometimes. It also helps to keep 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, 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. This could be a college student, a stay at home mom, or a retiree.
Many teachers believe that children who are left home alone are more likely to have problems in school. 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:
Remember that they are still children and will make mistakes. Treat their mistakes as learning experiences rather than failures. Check with them regularly to see how they feel about being home alone and if they have any concerns. Encourage the child to let you know about anything that scares them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Tell your child often how proud you are of them and how much you appreciate them.