(This workshop recap features advice from Jessica Perkins, a preschool worker—who has been in the education system for as long as she can remember—and a mom of four.)
Babysitting may seem like it’s all “fun and games,” but the job includes more responsibilities than you might think. I want to share a dozen and one tips that every aspiring babysitter can embrace.
Be responsible and dependable.
Your employers—the parents of the children you are babysitting—are trusting you to take care of their children while they are gone. This is a great responsibility! You are expected to play and have fun with the kids, but you are also expected to prevent dangerous activities, such as tree-climbing, fighting with sticks, or flipping on the couch. Also, keep in mind that the parents are hiring you in order to fulfill their own commitments or responsibilities, so you must be unwavering on your promise to babysit. Resist the temptation to cancel, even if you’re invited to do something more fun (like attend a party). If something unavoidable, such as sickness, comes up after you schedule the babysitting gig, let your employers know as soon as possible.
Although being on time is good, being early is even better! Chances are the parents will be rushing around to get ready and will really appreciate it if you are not one of the things they have to worry about. Plan to arrive early enough to receive instructions about your time with their children.
When babysitting, you are a role model and a leader for the children. However, you can still establish a healthy and fun relationship with them through kindness. Show interest in what they love, and ask friendly questions to help them open up to you and realize that you care. It is also important to be considerate by playing and engaging with them and helping to sort out little fights that arise between siblings. When they win a game or do a good job, give them high fives and hugs. Be encouraging! Of course, babysitting isn’t all a piece of cake. When little accidents happen, like a scraped knee or elbow, be comforting to the child and help clean up any messes.
When a 3-year-old won’t stop asking questions, what do you do? When a stubborn toddler declares that he doesn’t have to obey you because you aren’t the parent, what do you say? When you feel yourself losing your composure, what do you do? The best answer lies within; take several deep breaths, and DO NOT let the children see that you are upset. Then, approach the question or challenge with revitalized energy and patience. If the problem is a child’s strong disdain for cleanup time, you can make a game out of it and see who can pick up toys the fastest. You can also offer to pick up one kind of toy, perhaps the building blocks, and ask what kind of toy they want to pick up first. Challenging the children to clear up a room before the end of a fun dancing song works, too! Finally, if you offer a snack or a game as a reward at the end, straightening up won’t take long at all. “First… then” statements work well with this technique, as in “First we need to clean up these dolls, then we can color.”
Your own younger siblings provide a great opportunity to practice babysitting skills. You will be hired more often if parents know that you have previous childcare experience. If you don’t have younger siblings, you can gain experience by volunteering in a place where other adults are present with the children, such as a church nursery or VBS. To learn about important First Aid skills, take a course given by the Red Cross, which will assure the parents of your abilities in watching their children.
Be creative and playful.
Nobody likes a boring babysitter! If you have a big imagination and great pretending skills, you will be loved by the children you babysit. Bring plenty of extra things to do, since children are very energetic; they bounce from one activity to the next in the blink of an eye! Coloring books, bouncy balls, and chalk are easy to carry along and provide enjoyment for all. If you can’t think of anything else to bring, sites like Pinterest offer good ideas. When the children are having fun and aren’t bored, they are less likely to act out, miss their parents, or fight with each other.
Be active and healthy.
The kids you are babysitting will probably want to run around, play hide-and-seek, crawl on the ground like animals at the zoo, or play catch; be sure you are healthy enough to keep up! If you are sick, cancel your babysitting gig, because children have weaker immune systems and could easily pick up any illness you have.
Assure the parents that their children are safe with you by taking really good care of them. Enforce the house rules when necessary; don’t let the kids get away with anything. Though you are there to play with them, you are also there to make sure they don’t get into any trouble. If you do something that shows you aren’t trustworthy, you probably won’t earn another babysitting job with that family. Part of showing that you are trustworthy is asking good questions before the parents leave. Four categories of things to ask about are BEST:
B – Bedtime routines
E – Entertainment
S – Snacks
T – Toileting
You will also need to negotiate with the parents so that it is clear to both parties how much money you are going to earn. It’s good to set a monetary rate (such as $10 an hour), but be open to adjusting it if the parents suggest doing so.
Be a leader.
Babysitting is good practice for someday having a family of your own, partially because it shows you what it’s like to be in a position of authority. Every now and then, you will need to reprimand the children you are babysitting. You’ll probably also have to do some hard tasks, such as turning off the TV when the movie is over or disciplining the children when they are being naughty. However, these things will benefit the child in the long run, so don’t give in to the tempting option of ignoring bad behavior. To get the children to listen to you when you have to be serious, get down on their level and make eye contact before you begin to speak. Then, in a slow and firm voice, say what you need to say. If you want to send them to a time out, say: “I think that you need to reset. Please go sit on that chair and sit quietly for five minutes.” You can base the amount of time they are in “reset” on their age (three minutes for a 3-year-old, four minutes for a 4-year-old, etc.)
When different needs and situations arise, you must be able to act fast and go with the flow. For example, try to be prepared and have everything under control in case the parents come back earlier or later than they originally intended. Also, be flexible if the parents want you to do special chores or help one of their children with special needs, or if you are asked to babysit at the last minute. If you are flexible for the parents, chances are they will remember and be flexible for you, too.
When babysitting, there will be times when you will not know something—such as how to operate the microwave or answer a child’s question. Problem-solving skills are especially useful, as they can help you to figure out the microwave and help the child search for an answer to the question on the internet. You can also help the children by introducing activities that are fun and educational at the same time.
Both the parents and children alike will formulate opinions about you based on how you look and act, so be modest (no short-shorts, plunging necklines, or tank tops) and dress comfortably…you’re going to be playing around a lot! Also, make sure you brush your hair and your teeth, and use deodorant! You must take care of yourself to show the parents that you can take care of their kids. If you don’t already know the kids when you come over, talk to them and be outgoing! It is easy for children to feel out of place and uncomfortable with a low-energy, tired babysitter.
Have good manners.
You are a guest as well as a babysitter, so don’t snoop around the house or put your feet up on the table. You need to set a good example for the children you are watching, even if they weren’t taught good manners. Say “please” and “thank you” when talking to both the kids and the parents, and have good table manners when eating.
Babysitting is a very rewarding job that can help propel you to your future, especially if you plan on working in childcare or education. It teaches responsibility, dependability, kindness, leadership, and flexibility, among other things. All of these skills will definitely benefit you in the future, no matter what career you choose.