Whether both parents work is not the issue when discussing the problems that arise when children don't get adequate after-school care, says Linda Calvin, a specialist in educational psychology and development. The connection between parents and children is the issue.
"Kids understand that parents must work. And as long as there isn't too big a space between the end of their school day and seeing Mom or Dad, things can be fine," Calvin says. "But when there are a lot of loose ends, no one to go to, and no certainty of when Mom and Dad are coming home, that's the worst situation."
To help assure that kids get the connection they need, Calvin offers these tips to working parents:
* Delineate limits in your work life as to what you will and won't do.
* Find a caregiver you trust to have a relationship with your child.
* Take time to talk to your child every day to gather what the child is learning from his or her relationships. Bedtime is a fine time to talk about what a child has concluded about the day.
* If you see troubling symptoms, really dig in to find out what's going on. (Calvin once saw a 6-year-old who had been watching MTV--even though the caretaker had been instructed not to let him. The boy would wake up at night screaming because he couldn't make sense of the images.)
* Job share, work at home, establish flex time, or arrange your hours so your spouse and you maximize hours at home with the kids.
* After school, find a group child-care situation that's reputable.
* Consider hiring for pay a grandparent or aunt. Don't leave the role to older siblings or teen-agers. They have their own issues to deal with.
* Have a ritual phone call when the child gets home to check in. Talk five minutes and connect.
* Be sure your child always knows where Mom and Dad are and how to reach them. Check in often so they keep you in mind.
* When you do come home, even if you're tired, spend time with your child. Play, talk, get an ice cream, build the relationship.
These options may cost money or cause you to earn less money, but they will pay off in a more developmentally stable child.