Your kids' after school routine isn't just a time to get homework done. It's also a time when they can relax and unwind from a long day at school. However, without any structure or pre-defined expectations, it's hard for kids to remember what they're supposed to accomplish between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. So if your kids are home alone after school on a regular basis, use the following tips to create a consistent — and safe — after school routine:
Create the Perfect After School Routine for Kids
When it comes to creating the perfect after school routine for your kids, nothing matters more than safety. Toward that end, make sure your kids' after school routine includes the following:
- Regular safety check-ins. Make sure your kids check in with an adult shortly after arriving home. For example, have them call you, your ex, or a neighbor to announce that they've arrived home safely. Alternatively, have them send you a text or even check-in via video conferencing. This will provide you with a reasonable degree of confidence that your kids are safe and are exactly where you expect them to be.
- Clear boundaries. Set clear rules for what your kids can and can not do after school. For example, are they allowed to go to a friends' house? Have kids over? Watch TV? Use the computer? The more clear you can be, the better. Sure, your kids may push the boundaries a bit, but the clarity will help you follow through with fair, age-appropriate consequences.
- Snack time. Your kids will likely return home from school hungry. Let them know what they can eat, and — if necessary — teach them how to prepare it. Make sure that you provide plenty of balanced options, too, so that your kids aren't just snacking on junk food. For example, keep a stash of carrot sticks and fresh apples on hand for your kids to snack on after school.
- Time to unwind. Make sure that your kids know what relaxing activities they can engage in after school. In addition, have a plan for managing the amount of screen time your kids have. For example, allow each child to choose one half-hour show after school, or play video games for a limited amount of time.
- Time to play and socialize. Your kids will probably want to play with their friends, too, during the after school hours. Be sure to provide some structure and be clear about which houses they may go to, and whether the are allowed to visit the homes of friends whose parents are not home. In addition, particularly if your kids are home alone after school, be clear about whether they may have their friends over to your house. (Keep in mind, too, that you — as the adult — may be held responsible for what happens in your home, whether you are there or not.)
- Time for homework. Communicate with your children, too, about when you expect them to complete their homework, and in what environment. For example, do they need to do it immediately, when they first get home, as part of the after school routine? Or can they relax for a little while? Do you expect them to work independently in their rooms, or can they do their homework in front of the TV? Note, too, that your kids will be much more likely to participate fully in completing their homework if they know you will be checking it.
In addition, be aware that if your children will be home alone after school, you will need to be particularly clear about your expectations, and about the consequences you will apply if they do not comply with your house rules. For example, if your rule is that your kids have to start their homework before you get home, an appropriate consequence for "forgetting" to do that would be the lose of TV/video game privileges.