Dear Dr. Shore,
My fifth-grade daughter is usually home alone after school because of my work schedule. What can I do to make sure shes safe and to give me peace of mind?
Here are some tips to help lessen the anxiety for both you and your daughter:
Set out clear rules for your daughter. Those might include coming home right after school, locking the door, not allowing strangers into the house, not using the stove or sharp knives, and not telling callers that she is home alone. (Instead, have your child say that you can't come to the phone.) Post the rules in a prominent place, and go over them with her periodically. Also, be clear about your policy about having friends over to your house after school and about her going to a friend's house.
Have your child keep her house key hidden from view. Wearing a key around her neck invites trouble by communicating her home-alone status. If your daughter puts the key in her backpack, have her attach it to something thats easy to find, such as a shoe lace. You might also want to hide a key outside the house, or give one to a neighbor in case she loses her key.
Have your child call you when she gets home. Leave instructions for your co-workers to put your child through or, if needed, to track you down. If you are unavailable and your child needs to speak with an adult, make sure she has a familiar adult she can call. Some communities provide telephone services (often called "phone friends" or "warm lines") for children who are staying alone and need to speak with an adult.
Make after-school arrangements for your child on occasion. You might arrange for her to go to a friend's house or participate in a community or extracurricular activity one or two afternoons a week to help break up the monotony of self-care. On days your child is home, consider assigning her chores or set out games or projects for her to do when she gets home.
Be home when your child expects you. She will likely worry if youre late. If you are delayed, call her to let her know when you will be home.