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The prevalence of single parent families, as well as, families with two working parents, has led to the phenomena of latchkey children.  Latchkey child is the term provided to describe a child who arrives home after school to an empty home. 

Various opinions exist as to the impact of being a latchkey child on the child’s psyche.

If it is necessary for your child to be home alone between the hours school is finished and you arrive home from work, several strategies exist to ensure your child’s emotional, academic, and physical well-being.

* Provide ground rules for after school activities.  Go over the list of rules to guarantee no misunderstandings arise.  For example, homework must be completed prior to playing video games.

* Provide several easy to prepare snacks and have them readily available.  Better yet, keep a regular supply of fresh fruits and raw veggies in the home.

* Attach a list of phone numbers in a prominent location for easy access with notations for identification.  If possible, preprogram the telephone or your child’s cell phone with the necessary numbers.

* Keep a list of “forever” (always follow these) rules visible: lock the door, don’t answer the telephone or door, call mom or dad when you arrive home, etc.

* Require your child to call ahead if plans change and he or she is going to an after school activity.

* Make sure that your child knows where the first aid kit is kept.

* Limit the possibility of trouble by limiting the presence of after school friends when you are not home.

* Use the phone to check in and make sure that your child is okay, especially if you are gone longer than two hours.

Set aside time to spend with your child on a daily basis to promote the emotional well-being of a latchkey child.  

* Prepare and eat dinner together.

* Help your child with his homework.

* Ask your child about his day and things that he learned in school.

* Play a quick board or card game together.

* Take the time to chat about whatever comes to mind.

Realize that you can lessen the anxiety that you or your child may experience due to the home alone syndrome.  Providing structure for the time alone will prevent idle time and limit the possibility of anxious feelings.  Spending time to interact with your child once you are home will reassure the child of your love and concern for him.  Praising your child for a job well done in your absence will promote self-esteem.  Following these few simple steps will ease the situation for everyone involved.