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"Latchkey children" is a term often used to describe children who must stay at home alone taking care of themselves for some part of the day.  Usually, they're the children of working parents, many of who either cannot afford child care, or none is available.

Some children enjoy caring for themselves and happily accept the added responsibilities.  Others occasionally are lonely, bored or scared.  Moreover, children in self-care are about three times more likely than those supervised by adults to be involved in accidents, engage in delinquent behavior, or be victimized.

Studies show that a close relationship between parents and children
decreases or moderates any negative effects of self-care.

Parents who must leave their children home alone on a regular basis often face concerns about how well their children can cope.  By discussing all aspects of safety and crime prevention, parents will be building their children's self-esteem, confidence and competence for handling both routine activities and potentially dangerous situations.

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Promoting Self-Care Skills

To promote self-care skills, parents should focus on setting rules and limits, increasing levels of responsibility, and communicating basic safety information. If children understand why they must be left alone and what they may and may not do, their risk of danger, and their parents' worries, will be greatly decreased.

Following Household Routines

If your children are to be in charge of themselves at home, discuss the routines they are to follow: household chores, pets to tend, homework, family policies on visiting friends or having friends visit them, and what to do when the telephone or doorbell rings. Also, if you are not going to be coming home at your regular time, let your children know!

What to Teach Your Children

  • To memorize their name and address, including city and state.
  • To memorize their phone number, including area code.
  • To use telephones to make emergency, local, and long distance calls and to reach the operator.
  • To check in with you or a neighbor immediately after arriving home.
  • To never go into your home if a door is ajar or a window is broken.
  • How to work your home's door and window locks and to lock them when they are at home alone.
  • How to get out of the home quickly in case of fire.
  • How to answer the doorbell and telephone when they're home alone.
  • Not to go into anyone else's home without your permission.
  • Never to go anywhere with another adult, even one who says you have sent him or her.
  • Adopt a family code word to be used if you have to ask a third party to pick up your children.
  • To avoid walking or playing alone.
  • That a stranger is someone neither you nor they know well.
  • That if they feel they're being followed—either on foot or by a car—to run to the nearest public place, neighbor, or "Safe House."
  • To tell you if anyone asks them to keep a secret, offer them gifts or money, or asks to take their picture.
  • To always tell you if something happened while they were away from you that made them feel uncomfortable in any way.