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Latch Key Kids and Working Parents

Tags:  Job stress, Working parents, Children

Latch key kids – a term used to describe a child left home alone while their parents work – are expected to continue to increase as more and more women enter the work force and the divorce rate continues to rise.
For parents who find themselves in the precarious situation of needing to work full time while not having sufficient income or a good alternative place to care for their children, here are four questions to ask according to the professionals at CallingCare.com.
How Old Should a Child Be?
Though state laws don't typically regulate at what age a child can legally be left home alone, a child in primary school is generally accepted as being too young. Some child-protection agencies say children eight or nine years old can be left alone for up to two hours under certain conditions and depending on the child.

The primary deciding criteria needs to be driven by the individual child. Consider if your child is

  • Not afraid to stay home alone
  • Able to follow directions (read instructions and phone numbers)
  • Able to solve problems independently (like fix a snack)

Also consider how long your child will be home alone, whether the neighborhood is safe, and if you or another adult is easily accessible in case of emergency.

Is the Child Ready to be Left Alone?


The only way to find out is to ask. Most children who are not comfortable being home alone will let you know. Very often you will already know if your child has problems sleeping alone or is afraid of the dark.

How Long Can a Child be Left?

Generally two to three hours is considered the maximum. Parents should take into consideration not just their time on the job but their commute time, too. Be sure to postpone any errands until you can pick up your child and take him or her with you.


In some instances you may have an older child oversee a younger sibling. Many child development experts agree that children under ten cannot effectively supervise other children. If you place an older sibling in charge, be sure all the children in the family are instructed about self-care and that the older child is comfortable assuming this role.

What Can a Family Do?

It is important to make being home alone a positive experience by reinforcing the child's sense of independence and minimizing his or her fear. Be very clear that even though you are not there you are in charge.


Provide a very clear set of rules along with back up systems and discuss them thoroughly with your child. Preparing a schedule or list of chores along with list of important phone numbers can help the child become focused and responsible. Don't hesitate to make changes if it's not working.


Working and raising a child can be a rewarding -- and sometimes difficult – experience. It's all about planning and doing what is right for you and your child.


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