Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Home Alone – For Real

Now that school is out and summer has begun, more and more kids are staying home alone, or becoming latch key kids. I have been under the impression that a Latch Key kid was a fairly new term, but through my research have learned that it was a term that was started after WWII. The term is claimed to have originated from an NBC documentary in 1944, due to the phenomenon of children being left home alone becoming common during and after the war when one parent would be enlisted into the armed forces, so the other would have to get a job. However, the more educated the parents, the more likely a latchkey child.

What is a good age to leave children home alone?

There is no magic formula to measure a child's readiness to assume self-care at home. Very often, circumstances drive the issue; daycare might become unavailable, cost-prohibitive, or unsatisfactory, or there is no neighbor nearby to provide supervision along with their own children. A latchkey child should want to stay alone, and be comfortable assuming the additional responsibility.

Things to consider:

  • Consider your children's maturity level. Do they understand -- and follow -- safety instructions? 
  • How do they do when it comes to making decisions under pressure? 
  • Do they think clearly and make the choice you would want them to? 
  • Do you have any first-hand information about how they would react in an emergency? 
  • How safe is your neighborhood? 
  • Do you -- and your child -- know your neighbors, and trust any (or some) of them to come to your child's aid if necessary? 
  • Do they know about calling 9-1-1?  

Effects on the Children:

Being home alone can affect children differently according to age. While younger children may experience lonliness, bordom and fear, older children may develop independence and self-reliance.



Before leaving your child home alone, do a safety inspection to make sure everything is in order. Things to check for include:

Remove all firearms

  • Secure poisons and cleaning supplies
  • Secure alcoholic beverages and medications
  • Establish rules about the use of appliances, especially gas stoves
  • Supply a first aid kit making sure it is well stocked
  • Post emergency phone numbers and numbers of neighbors and relatives and how to get in touch with you
  • Instruct your child about calling 911 and giving important information
  • Instruct your child to keep the doors and windows locked, and do not open for strangers
  • Instruct your child to not give out any information to strangers either by telephone or internet

Remember, no matter how mature your child acts, he or she is still a child. Children invariably make mistakes; they don't always react in a situation as you wish they would. And, even if they start off well without adult supervision, they can get "spooked" and develop real fears about being home by themselves. Give your youngsters lots of encouragement, support and reinforcement, and treat their mistakes as learning experiences instead of failures. Show them how much you appreciate their helpfulness, self-reliance and cooperation while you are away, and be liberal with appropriate rewards.

An interesting link depicts 'How to Keep Latchkey Kids Safe' By Charlina Stewart, eHow Contributor

Highlights from that article:

  • Establish safety rules with your kids. Children should not allow anyone into the house while you're not there--including their friends.
  • Teach latchkey kids how to handle themselves properly on the telephone. Children should never reveal to anyone over the phone that they are home alone. If someone calls, they should simply say, "Mom can't come to the phone right now," and take a message.
  • Make all snacks ahead of time. Children should never use the stove while an adult is not present. After school snacks should be eaten cold, or heated in the microwave.
  • Post emergency phone numbers near every phone on the house.
  • Make sure your child knows his address, telephone number, and your work number by heart. This information will be important if your child ever needs to contact emergency workers in your absence.
  • Have emergency plans in place in case of a fire, a home invasion or bad weather. These plans should be practiced periodically to keep them fresh in your latchkey kid's mind.
  • Teach children never to enter the house if the door is open. Instead, they should go to a trusted neighbor's home and get help.

Read more: How to Keep Latchkey Kids Safe |

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