Babysitting: The Basics

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Babysitting: The Basics

Managing kids can be a challenge. One moment they're snuggling up for stories and introducing you to their imaginary friends. The next, they're biting their siblings and painting the new puppy purple.

How do you cope? You plan ahead for all kinds of possibilities!

There's no doubt that babysitting requires skills in creativity, adventure, and play. But those skills are no help if you don't know what to do when a kid has a playground tumble or you're not prepared for the realities of a 2-year-old's temper.

Have a Business Plan

Planning starts before you get a babysitting job. To get clients, you need to know the best way to find them. If you're new to babysitting, you might want to spread the word only to family, friends, and neighbors until you get more experience.

Babysitting is about your safety and comfort level as well as the kids'. Find out if a job is right for you by asking careful questions about what the family expects. Plan how you'll get to and from jobs safely and know how you'll stay in control in an unfamiliar house.

Think ahead about the kids you'd like to care for. If you're not comfortable looking after newborns or kids with special needs, don't take that job. Wait for the next opportunity to come along. It will!

Be Prepared

Do you know how to change a diaper? How to bathe a child? Find out before you show up for your first day of work.

Your first priority in babysitting is to keep kids safe. Being a good babysitter means knowing how to handle everything from a splinter to a real emergency.

The best time to prepare for an event is before it happens. Yes, it's very unlikely the child you're looking after will eat something poisonous. But knowing where to find the poison control number gives you enormous peace of mind.

Even when it comes to something as simple as fixing lunch, a little advance planning saves you time and worry. Does the child have any food allergies? Which foods are choking hazards for toddlers? How will you ensure young kids or babies stay safe and out of trouble while you prepare a meal?

Young children demand your time and attention every second. They also need structure, such as regular meal and nap times. Organize your day, including what time the kids will eat, what you'll feed them, when they nap, and for how long.

The best way to prepare for all kinds of babysitting possibilities is to take a babysitting training or safety course. Your local community center or hospital might offer one. It also helps to talk to experienced babysitters to see how they do things.

Be an Entertainer . . .

Parents love babysitters who help kids have fun and learn — while still reinforcing rules and keeping discipline. Ask kids to show you their favorite toys. Find out from parents and other babysitters what games kids of different ages like to play.

Get the kids outdoors if you can. Take them to a playground if the parents say it's OK. Simple games like tag and hide and seek get kids active and help them stay fit (a big topic these days). Running around outside also tires kids out so they nap and sleep well, which parents will probably appreciate!

If you can't walk to a park or play in a yard, ask parents about other options in the neighborhood. Urban areas may have skating rinks, libraries, or community centers within walking distance — just be sure to ask parents if it's OK to take the kids there. If outdoors doesn't work out, get creative indoors. Dancing with the kids is great exercise, too.

TVs and computers have become the go-to entertainment for many kids these days, but that's not always a good thing. Doctors and parenting experts recommend less screen time for kids, so many parents have set time limits on electronics. Find out what the house rules are.

. . . But Not a Best Friend

Speaking of rules, it's tempting to be the "cool" babysitter who lets kids get away with things parents never allow. But you can't be a child's friend all the time. Know when to say no and when it's OK to let something small go — like letting kids stay up 15 minutes past bedtime on occasion.

Kids will challenge you. Pushing boundaries to see how much they can get away with is a normal way kids (even toddlers) learn and figure out where they stand. But even though kids try to fight rules, they actually need and thrive best on structure and limits. So check in with parents to find out what the rules are, then follow them — even if you don't agree with them! Not only will this help keep things consistent for the kids, you'll gain their respect and trust.

The best babysitters think of the job as a responsibility first, with having fun (or earning money) second. Few things are as rewarding as knowing you've earned a child's trust and affection.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: March 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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