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What do you do when the after school programs have closed their doors in your area and a babysitter isn’t in your budget? Well, according to a survey by America After 3PM, one in 25 kindergartners through fifth-graders care for themselves after school. The amount of self-supervised kids continues to jump each year. Latchkey kids let themselves in or out of empty houses and typically supervise themselves for a few hours each day.

Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about giving your kids the keys after-school…

How old should a child be?

The first thing you should do is find out the legal age that a child can be home alone, it should be listed on your states website. Once you find out the legal age, the next thing to take into consideration is how mature your child is. Just because someone is 11 or 12 doesn’t mean they are ready. Although, a 10-year-old is younger, they could be very mature for their age.

Are they comfortable?

Leaving your child alone should be something they are very comfortable with. They will be taking on a lot of responsibility and if they are afraid it could turn into a bad situation.

Consider a part-time sitter

If you can’t afford a full time after school sitter, can you budget in a part-time sitter. Instead of leaving them alone for four hours at a time, can you leave them for two and let a sitter come for two. This way, if they are a little scared at first at least they can look forward to a sitter coming soon after they get home.

Set up busy work

It’s important to make sure that your latchkey child has productive things to do while home alone. Have a family meeting and come up with some rules to follow when they first get home. Have them start and finish their homework and then do a few chores and let them have leisure time afterwards. Just the homework and a few chores should take up about an hour or two of their time. Just so you can stay on top of things have them check in with a phone call every hour.

The following these safety tips might come in handy, too:

  • Does he know his full name, address, and phone number? Does he know your full name as well, and the address and phone number of your workplace, or other ways to reach you at work? (You might call every day to be sure your child has arrived home safely and that nothing at home is out of the ordinary. Children appreciate the sense of security this form of supervision provides.)
  • When he returns home from school every day, does your child know how to lock the door behind him? Can he remember to call you and/or a neighbor as soon as he arrives home, and then check in again at designated times?
  • Have you instructed your child never to enter your home if a door is ajar, or if a window is open or broken?
  • Have you talked about what to do if someone knocks at the front door while he is home alone? (The best advice: he should not open the door and should tell the person knocking that you are home but are busy and unable to answer the door.)
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