Although the number of latchkey kids has dropped dramatically in recent years, there are still kids coming home to empty houses, if not every day, at least on occasion. Those days of kids home alone can be particularly stressful for the parents. Yet parents can worry a little less if they can be sure they’ve gone over rules and scenarios with their children in advance. But what should those rules be? What unknowns should be covered?
Every family has a different situation with kids of varying ages and capabilities, so it’s unreasonable to make a set list of rules or guidelines that every family adheres to. However, we can suggest what your agreement might include, based on research and personal experience.
Here’s our summation below. Perhaps your family can draw on these suggestions to create a written document that parents and kids agree to and sign, to make sure everyone is clear on expectations and no one can claim “I didn’t know.”
Being on time: If your child has a tendency to dawdle on the way home from school, you might want to have a set time by which they need to be home and checking in with you.
Checking in: In what way should your child let you know they are home?
Neighbors: Which neighbors can/should your child go to and under what circumstances?
Protocol: Once your child is home, what should the safety routine be? It might be lock the door, set the alarm, turn on the porch light, put the dog out, and let mom/dad know they’re home, for example.
The thermostat: Is your child allowed to turn the heat or air conditioning up or down?
Doors and windows: Can any doors or windows be left open on hot days or for another reason?
Kitchen: What is your child allowed to do in the kitchen? Use the microwave? The stove? What are the expectations about cleaning up after?
If something goes wrong: What should your child do if there’s an emergency? Where should they go? Whom should they call? What counts as an emergency?
Chores and homework: Which chores are to be done and by when? What are the expectations around homework?
Fun: Is your child allowed to go to a friend’s? Can a friend come over? What are the rules regarding video games or computer time, or even time spent screwing around on their phones?
In addition, make sure you have all necessary phone numbers printed out and easy to find, like next to the phone or on the refrigerator. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are constantly telling me their phone died, so they need access to phone numbers without their cell phones too, just in case.
Also, hold yourself accountable as the parent. If you’re going to be in a meeting and unavailable from say 3:30 to 4:00, for example, or you’re going to be late getting home from work, let them know. You’ll be giving your child peace of mind, but being a role model for how this arrangement should work as well.
And if your kids are sometimes home alone, now might be the right time to get a home security system, for more peace of mind than an agreement can provide.