So What Are Your (Latchkey) Kids Doing After School?
By Gregg Murset
Every year, millions of children head home after school to an empty house because school clubs/sport programs have been cut, after-school supervision is expensive, or the children are at an age where parents feel they are capable of being home alone for a few hours. If you have a “Latchkey” kid, you’re certainly not alone.
After-school care is a multi-billion-dollar industry, however more than a quarter of America’s school children (15.1 million) are on their own after the school day ends. Despite growing awareness that children are at particular risk during these afternoon hours, the number and percentage of children left on their own in the afternoons has actually increased in the last five years.
If after-school care is not an option for your family, or you feel your child is old enough and responsible enough to be home alone, rather than allowing your child to set his or her own after-school schedule you should take advantage of the opportunity to create a teachable moment.
Parents can easily build their own after-school programs for their children by following the guidelines below. Besides children benefiting from the “teachable moments”, the experience will also start them down the path of developing into a responsible young adult. Here are some suggestions on how to start your program:
1. Set Expectations with Goals, Rewards & Penalties … No matter the age of your children or what you are trying to teach them, it’s important to set real goals, rewards for a job well done, and penalties if something goes wrong. By having clear goals, rewards and penalties, children of all ages can understand the benefits of following directions and weigh the consequences of any bad decisions.
2. Determine the “Trust Factor” … On a scale of 1-5, how much do you trust your child to be home unattended? If the number is 1, you will need to keep your child busy, and possibly, set some high penalties if something goes wrong. If the number is 5, give your child enough tasks to remain productive or possibly in charge of others.
3. Communication Is Key … Make sure your children understand that there is no such thing as over-communication throughout anytime home alone and that you actually demand regular updates. Set times to get short updates and then have full “downloads” when you get home. Use dinner or breakfast as the time to catch up or discuss what’s coming up.
4. Fill Time By Doing Projects … Set a schedule for your children so that each day there are different chores to do and that the chores fit the proper ages. Make sure the chores fill enough time and can be finished by the time you get home. Also build in some short breaks so your children have time to unwind from a tough day at school. Again, depending on the age and “trust factor”, the amount of time that needs to be filled can vary.
5. Follow Through … No matter whether your children do a great job or a poor one after school, you need to follow through with the rewards and penalties. Kids are smart enough to know whether parents will stand by their word or not and whether there is any bite behind that bark. While this is about keeping your kids safe and active, it’s also about teaching them work ethic, responsibility and accountability. So, praise and reward them for a job well done and remain strongly committed to the penalty you set for failing to meet expectations.