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Latchkey Kid: Make Home-Alone Time Happy and Healthy (page 2)

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Updated on Apr 17, 2013

Keep the keys handy. The classic image of the latchkey kid has the house key dangling from the child’s neck, and that remains a good method of making sure your child doesn’t lose it. Many families also hide a secondary key somewhere where a stranger wouldn’t find it. A trustworthy neighbor or nearby family member can also hold an extra key for you.

Encourage and support after-school activities. Extracurricular activities are known for keeping kids out of trouble, and they’re especially helpful for latchkey kids. They break up the routine and potential boredom of coming home to an empty house day after day.

Set clear rules. Open communication is at the heart of every parenting situation, and latchkey living is no different. “Make sure they’re clear on your expectations around the time alone—especially around screen time, homework and friends,” Renée says. Your relationship with your child sets the stage for his success as a latchkey kid—and as a human being.

Discuss the situation weekly. Take the time to keep up with how your child’s afternoons are going. This gives you a chance to get a sense of his behavior and happiness in the situation, and lets him share any concerns. “It’s crucial that they know and can count on time with you to really connect and receive your undivided attention,” Renée says.

Set parental controls on your TV and Internet. Most TV providers and web browsers allow you to control which channels and websites are viewable. It’s likely that your child knows more about these technological perks than you do, so take time to educate yourself on how to do this. (And periodically change your passwords!)

Stock the kitchen. Food doesn’t just provide nourishment after your child’s long day—it also makes lonely afternoons feel comfortable and “homey.” Let your child pick out a few healthy favorites that he can look forward to.

Establish benchmarks. As your child gets older and shows more responsibility and home skills, allow him more freedom. Depending on age and maturity, your child can play outside, walk to the store, cook for himself or enter parts of the house that were previously off-limits. These small benchmarks reward your child’s responsibility as a latchkey kid.

If you take the necessary precautions, you shouldn’t feel guilty about being a working parent. “There are many positives that can come from kids having increased independence and responsibility,” Renée says. “They feel more confident around problem solving, they’re more assured about their own ability to care for themselves, and when they’re given additional chores, such as starting dinner or helping out siblings, they feel a greater sense of purpose and that their contributions are critical to the family’s overall success.”

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