The world our children inhabit is, well, worlds away from the one we knew growing up. Most of us can remember sitting alone in the car while Mom ran into a store to grab something. Latchkey kids were common enough to have a name, and the stars of the Babysitter's Club series of books were 13-year-old seventh graders. And yet, when your own 13-year-old proposes the idea of babysitting, it's hard to wrap your head around the concept.
How can a child who consistently forgets to clear her place from the table possibly be responsible enough to watch someone else's children? It's a legitimate question -- but give your kid a little credit.
Remember that kids behave differently at home than they do outside. Home is safe, and your child knows that if she's going to make mistakes, that's the place to do it.
Another important key is that kids will generally give you what you expect to get from them. So when you, as mom, expect a messy room, spilled milk on the floor, and unwashed dishes in the sink, you won't be disappointed. On the other hand, when Mrs. Jones down the block is paying for a responsible babysitter, she, too, will find her expectations met.
That said, what do you need to do before you unleash your child on the world?
If it's been a while since you were on the hiring side, take a look at the advice offered by psychologist Clare Albright on choosing a teenage babysitter, and other expert advice on the SheKnows network. Then think about how your child stacks up against what you're reading.
Make an honest assessment of your child's level of responsibility. First, the basics: Can she stay calm while a child cries or tantrums? Can she change diapers or help a child go to the bathroom? Will she feel comfortable in someone else's home at night?
But beyond that, does your child know how to respond in an emergency? Yes, calling 911 is important, but if a child is actually choking, would your teen or tween know what to do?
Fortunately, it's easy to get the necessary training. If you're unsure that your child is ready to be a babysitter, tell her that you will fully support her when she is certified by the Red Cross. Invite her to show you how responsible she is by looking up your local Red Cross chapter and getting information on the next available Babysitter's Training course. The course, designed for 11 to 15-year-olds will prepare your teen or tween to care for infants and children while keeping them safe. She'll also learn how to handle emergencies such as injuries, illnesses, and household accidents, and most chapters offer these courses weekly or every two weeks.
All the training in the world is no substitute for hands-on experience in babysitting. If you have younger children, let your teen/tween watch them for a few hours. But bear in mind that siblings are the toughest charges, thanks to the emotional nature of the existing relationship. Nearby cousins can also be a good choice.
The first time your child babysits outside the home, try to be available for backup if needed. Don't call to check in every fifteen minutes, but if your child calls you, answer any questions and offer reassurance. And don't be at all surprised if the only call you get is from the hiring mom the next day, telling you how amazing your kid is. Just smile and say thank you.
When your child does start babysitting for other people, it's natural to have some concerns. Make sure you meet the family at least once. Know their address and phone number, and don't hesitate to ask around if you don't know them personally.
You can also limit your child's babysitting activities to a reasonable amount. If she's sitting every day after school, make sure she's home by dinner so that she can get her homework done, for example, and encourage her to leave her weekends free to unwind. Or, limit babysitting to weekends and vacation, and only allow that if her grades stay above a certain level. Work together to find the balance that works for everyone.
Babysitting is a great way for kids to grow and mature, and you and your child will ultimately both benefit.
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