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Latchkey children

My son Rohit, 13 years old studies in the 7th grade. My husband Vidyut is a bank manager and I work in a finance company. My son has morning school and he comes home by 1.00 p.m. As both of us are working he is alone at home till 6.00 p.m. when I come home. My husband wants me to leave my job and look after my child as he feels that he is being neglected. However, we need the money and the fact that I have always worked all my life and would not be very comfortable being at home the whole day. Since the last 4-5 months, Rohit also has started to be a little aloof, appears sad and withdrawn from us. He has started to become a little obstinate and critical too. He complains about the lack of activities and even his performance has started to slip a bit. From the time he comes home, he just wastes time, does not do homework or any studies; neither does he involve himself in any activity. He just switches on the television and watches all kinds of programmes without any discrimination. I have reprimanded him on many occasions but to no effect. Later he complains that he does not have time in the evening to spend with us. I am concerned about him.


Rohit is a latchkey child. With both of you working, he has to let himself in every day and come home to an empty house. He is left fending for himself. He probably feels very lonely in the house and taking care of himself in the afternoon. His anger has built up against you, which is coming out in his obstinacy and in being careless towards himself. He is starved for social interaction and he might feel that it is injustice being meted out to him. For Rohit, the adjustment that he has to make has not been smooth and therefore the problems have arisen. With the increase in working mothers and simultaneous disappearance of joint family, children like Rohit have to be fending for themselves. The parents are unhappy and the children are not satisfied. You cannot give up your job, cannot find a time that coincides with his school, not send him to a boarding school, not get a part-time job or work from home. Therefore, you need to plan according to your lifestyle, financial constraints and your job requirements. Nevertheless, the situation can always be helped. The first thing is to develop a good relationship with the neighbors; who can keep a friendly eye and lend a helping hand. They may not be on the same wavelength, or the same social status or education as you and there may be very little common between you. You will have to create a meaningful relationship here. The other thing is to get organized. Mornings are always chaotic and evenings tiring. If you are stressed you will tend to pass it on to Rohit too. So if you can plan and be stress-free, keep everything in order, you will be comfortable. It is an art that comes with practice. The busiest person is often the one who has time to do everything as he has learnt to manage things. It also makes Rohit feel that you are under control. Screaming frantically and shouting aimlessly creates panic anger and frustration. You can also plan weekly activities, which are known quite in advance, and this would minimize emergency instructions. One important matter is his nutrition. You could make sure that when he comes home, he does not come home to bread and jam. He is old enough to reheat frozen food in a microwave. Make sure that you have enough variety for him to chose from. Written notes giving clear and crisp instructions along with a request and praise are also helpful. Your child is in the age where discussing things with him, listening to his views, ideas, suggestions and solutions can help. You can explain as honestly as possible why things in your home are the way, they are and how you as a family can come through this. Do not attempt to make him feel guilty about anything. You could work out a rough timetable for him when he comes back from school. Make some ground rules about television, internet, telephone and studies. Try and involve him in this process so that he can take responsibility for the solution. You can make regular phone calls every two hours and talk to him for 5-10 minutes. Your husband can also help by calling home every alternate two hours. In this way, Rohit will also feel connected to both of you every hour. You can also leave surprises for him and tell it to him on the phone. You could also call from office before leaving and asking if he needs something on your way back. Come back with a present or a burger occasionally. The time that you are away is not as important as the time when you are home and when you can do something to help him. Make sure that you are not too tired to take him out or have fun with him. You can probably play with him and get to know him more closely, do some work for him and help him. The most important thing is to trust him. Believe in him and that what he is doing is not to hurt you. It is probably because he is feeling overwhelmed by what is happening. Let him know how much you appreciate his taking responsibility and being helpful.

Dr. Darshan Shah

Dr. Darshan Shah, a renowned psychiatrist and psychotherapist, is committed to make a difference in the area of mental health and help individuals cope with feelings and symptoms; change behavior patterns that may contribute to one’s illness and henceforth contribute to their newly improved pathway of life.

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