Latchkey kids are children that are alone for part of the day after school, and while they may not always carry a key to their home in their pocket, the ‘latchkey’ kid title comes from the fact that many of them do.
These children can gain confidence from having power over themselves and their schedule, but making sure they are safe is an important step in giving your child a responsibility they can handle. If you are considering letting your child spend after-school time by themselves in the house, here are a few tips on making your home safe.
- Check the legality in your state. The earliest age you can leave children alone varies from state to state. Make sure your child is legally old enough to be left alone before reaching any kind of decision. For example if you are living in Maryland you could reach out to real estate agents in Chevy Chase, MD, they will inform you that children cannot be left home alone if they are under age 8.
- Make sure your children have their keys. These can be kept on necklaces, keychains, or lanyards hidden safely in their backpacks or under their clothes. They shouldn’t be visible, and you should advise your children not to tell anyone else that they are home alone after school.
- Remove any dangerous items from your child’s environment and lock them away. Alcohol, firearms, cleaning products, even things like sharp kitchen knives should be placed away from their reach.
- Leave them with prepared food and child-friendly snacks. To avoid the likelihood of them hurting themselves while you’re gone, leave them with sandwiches, cheese sticks, fruit, and other prepared items so that they aren’t tempted to try and cook by themselves.
- Buy a first aid kit and booklet and place them somewhere easy to access. Make sure your children know where it is, how to find it, and what to use in case they hurt themselves. Include emergency contacts in the kit, just in case they panic and forget to look elsewhere. A step-by-step guide or labeling each item with a small note will also be a great item to leave in the first aid kit so they can remember what to do with each item should they need it.
- Place emergency contacts on the fridge, bulletin board, or wall. Make sure your children have a phone they can use, and easy-to-read numbers somewhere that are easy to find. When a child is panicking, they might not think to look in drawers, so place it somewhere obvious and tell them where they are. By the phone is a great option too so it’s handy for them to get to in their time of need.
- Have a fire escape plan. Let them know where the exits are, how to get to them, and what neighbors they can run to for help. If you have multiple latchkey kids, encourage them to work together and look out for one another in the event of a disaster. Running through drills of what to do in case of an emergency makes a well prepared family, should an emergency take place.
- Find a neighbor you can trust. A trustworthy adult can be a powerful ally when it comes to children who are “watching themselves.” Run background checks on your neighbors and form relationships with the ones who are willing to watch out for your children. Whether they’re only available in case of disaster, or checking in on them from time to time, neighbors are one of the first people children go to for help when they’re afraid, find out more about how to be a good neighbor.
Latchkey kids can learn a great deal of responsibility and independent skills by being home alone, but there is no need to put added stress on them or yourself if you don’t think it’s necessary. If your child seems hesitant, try connecting with a family friend or babysitter instead.
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