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Is your child ready to babysit?

Published on: September 01, 2009

Just last week, you hired a babysitter to watch your 11-year-old daughter. Now she’s expressing interest in becoming a babysitter herself. While there’s no magic age at which a child is ready to start babysitting, there are signs you can look for and steps you can take to help your child get ready.

Signs of Readiness

You know your child best. Watch him or her in everyday situations to determine the answers to these questions:

Does he enjoy spending time with children? A neighbor first suggested that Monica Rojas and Jabali Stewart’s 13-year-old son, Jacy, start babysitting after the neighbor saw him stop what he was doing outside to play catch with a toddler in their Seattle neighborhood.

That kind of interest in and sensitivity to children is important to successful babysitting. A teen who doesn’t enjoy spending time with his charges will not have a very positive experience.

How responsible is she? Does she complete chores around home? Does she finish her homework on time?

Lack of responsibility is a red flag for Karen Kirwin, a health educator with the Better Babysitters course at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “If they’re not responsible enough to care for themselves, or are still needing a lot of supervision themselves, that would be a big one,” she says.

Does she have the ability to think through situations and respond appropriately? Natalie Williams of Shoreline has used young babysitters to watch her son, Lucas. To her, a babysitter’s ability to keep a calm head in an emergency is paramount. “If something does happen, does she know who to call and what to do?” she asks.

Another thing to consider is your child’s patience threshold. When the toddler gets into the flour and the older brother starts teasing the dog, will your child be able to calmly de-escalate the situation?

Is he confident in himself and yet able to recognize his limitations? Molly Kimmel, a part-time instructor for the American Red Cross Babysitters Training course, emphasizes the importance of a babysitter’s “confidence to know that they are the person in charge and that they are able to make really competent decisions when it comes to someone else’s kid.”

How strong is his desire to start babysitting? “If somebody really is into it and this is what they want to do, then they’re going to do what it takes to do a good job with it,” says Kimmel.

Do you feel she is ready? When it comes down to it, you are the best judge of whether your teens is ready.

Michele Lamb of Seattle, whose 14-year-old daughter, Courtney, has been babysitting for two years, says, “You just have to know [your child], and you can just tell. And be honest.”

Help Them Prepare

Give your child a babysitting prep book or enroll her in a course through the American Red Cross, a hospital, community center, or online organization. Course content varies, but most teach basic first aid, child care, how to handle emergencies and ways to communicate with parents.

But Kirwin points out that completing a class does not necessarily give a child the go-ahead to begin babysitting. “We want [their parents] to do some assessment with them and make sure that they’re ready,” she says.

Give your child responsibilities at home. Discuss basic child care skills with her and consider starting her gradually by being a mother’s helper (where she watches children at their home while their mother is nearby but involved in some other activity) or watching children in your home while you are present. She may want to shadow an older sitter or babysit with a friend, if the parents agree to such an arrangement. These pseudo-babysitting experiences provide excellent opportunities to see your child in action and gauge just how ready she is to start babysitting on her own.

Role-play various situations with your child to prepare her for the rigors of babysitting. What should she do if a toddler is disobedient? How can she communicate to parents how much she charges? What are some activities children of various ages would enjoy? What if there’s a fall or a fire? Practicing with your child can help her feel more confident when the real thing comes along.

Advancing to the level of “babysitter” can be an exciting endeavor for your child. Make sure she’s ready and it will be a positive experience for everyone.

Julia Ditto is a Seattle freelance writer whose three children love their very prepared babysitters.

Resources for babysitting

For course information:

Seattle Red Cross

Seattle Children's Hospital

Babysitting prep books:

The New Complete Babysitter’s Handbook, by Carol Barkin and Elizabeth James

The Babysitter’s Handbook: The Care and Keeping of Kids,
by Harriet Brown and Jodi Preston

Originally published in the September, 2007 print edition of ParentMap.

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