Home Alone: Latchkey kids

With so many full-time working parents, the reality is that children may have to return home to an empty house for a short time after school until a parent or guardian returns from work. These children are often referred to as latchkey kids. School age children need to be supervised by a responsible adult. If you can’t be there in person when your child gets home from school, find a way to give him or her the feeling of being supervised.

The Canada Safety Council advises parents not to consider letting a child stay home alone until at least the age of 10 – and then only if the child is mature enough, only for an hour or two at most, and only if there’s a responsible adult nearby to help out if needed. The parent must judge whether the child is ready to be alone or with siblings for a short time before or after school. Age alone does not determine whether a child is capable of being left alone. For example, unsupervised teens and pre-teens can sometimes get into more trouble than younger children. Parents must put into place a structure that assures a safe and supervised environment even when there is no adult at home.

Advice for parents of children who will be left home alone:

  • Set firm rules, with clear do’s and don’ts.
  • Prepare your child to deal with situations that may arise.
  • Specify how his or her time is to be spent.
  • Keep in touch – if you’re hard to reach, get a mobile phone or pager.
  • Make sure your home is safe and secure. Safety Checklist
  • Limit the time you leave your child at home alone.

Short test runs may help you assess whether your child is ready to stay home alone. Go out for just a few minutes. When you return, talk to your child about the experience. Increase the amount of time you are out, leaving specific instructions to follow. After a few trials answer these questions:

  • Does your child feel comfortable about being on his or her own?
  • Do you feel comfortable about your child being at home alone?
  • Can your child follow rules responsibly?
  • Does he or she understand and remember instructions?
  • Does your child find constructive things to do without getting into mischief?
  • Will your child be able to handle unexpected situations if they arise?
  • Are you able to communicate readily with your child when you are not at home?
  • Can your child always reach someone in case of an emergency?

A great tool to give you peace of mind and to ensure your child gets into the house safely when you are not home is the GE AccessPoint KeySafe lockbox. Keys are placed inside the lockbox and can be attached to the side of the house near an entrance – perfect for kids who often lose their keys. By entering a code chosen by the homeowner your child can access the door key, get inside safely, and return it to the lockbox after use.

Be sure that you and your child are both comfortable with staying home alone. Prepare your child for the responsibilities of self-care, and focus on how to prevent problems, handle real-life situations, and keep safely and constructively occupied.