Baby Care

11 things every first-time babysitter needs to know

My friend Stephanie once went to a babysitting job not realizing that she would have to accompany the little girl to the washroom every time she needed to go.

“The parents were already out the door,” says Stephanie. “She explained in her sweet little voice that she needed help wiping.”

While Stephanie handled it like a pro—with a smile to boot!—situations like these can really catch a first-time sitter off guard, and you don’t want to get tripped up. Here’s where a little know-how can prove helpful and enable you to handle almost any situation thrown your way. Make sure you’ve learned these important babysitter basics before your first solo gig.

1. Practice childcare basics

You should be able to handle the basics of childcare, which include supervising and monitoring child safety, preparing meals and snacks, helping children maintain good hygiene and personal hygiene, changing diapers for infants and toddlers and organizing age-appropriate activities and play.

If you’re new to babysitting, take a course that covers the basics. Even better, consider undertaking some paid or volunteer work in a group setting, such as a summer camp or nursery school, where you may receive some required training and will most certainly get hands-on experience in caring for children and handling common situations.

2. Know the ins and outs of baby care if you’re babysitting an infant

Babies need a lot of extra care, so if you’re going to be looking after one, you have a lot of learning to do.

Basic baby care knowledge—including how to change a diaper, how to bottle feed, what to do when a baby cries, and safety dos and don’ts—is important to understand if you’re babysitting an infant. So you shouldn’t babysit an infant until you have gained some hands-on experience with babies.

3. Learn the house rules and follow them

Before you start your babysitting gig, find out the main rules of the home in which you’ll be babysitting. Write them down so that you have a sort of cheat sheet to refer to while on the job. These are details that you should discuss in advance with the parents when you interview for the job. They should include:

  • What the children are and aren’t allowed to eat
  • What activities are forbidden
  • What time they should go to bed

If you’re unsure of or wondering about any of the rules, ask the parents before they head out of the door. You can even call them a few days before the job to ask them any questions you may have.

4. Be respectful at all times

Babysitters should not only have respect for the rules of the home, but also for family diversity, as we all live in different ways.

This could be anything from cultural practices to foods the family eats to preferred behaviours, like taking shoes off at the door. Show respect for the way that the family does things.

5. Get some safety training

It is advisable for every babysitter to take a course in first aid and adult and paediatric CPR/AED. We all know that accidents and injuries can happen—and they certainly will, no matter how conscientious the caregiver. You want to be able to handle any cuts and scrapes ably, as well as more serious problems, like choking. Plus, this training will help you identify potential hazards. For example, if the family has a pool or hot tub, you’ll want to keep the children away from it to prevent a drowning accident.

You should ensure that you have the children’s parents’ phone numbers, and, in case of emergency, a list of every number you might possibly need.

This list of phone numbers should include work and mobile numbers for both parents and other trusted adults who could step in to help if need be. Also keep emergency numbers and numbers for the children’s doctors easily accessible.

Know, too, when to call 911. This includes if the child is unconscious, not breathing, or having difficulty breathing. In any situation that worries you or that you can’t handle on your own, do not hesitate to call 911.

For this kind of extreme emergency, have the family’s home address written down, so that it’s at the ready should you ever need to call for an ambulance or the fire department. Put all this info on the same cheat sheet as the house rules.

7. Put age-specific knowledge about children into play

How you interact with and care for a child can be dependent on age. Infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and elementary-aged children will communicate differently and have different needs.

It’s important to know what children of each age group are capable of, so that you have a general idea of the kinds of activities you can do with them. Why not bring along a kit with age-specific books or toys for the children? Having the right items for the children’s ages can make you the coolest babysitter on the block.

Understanding different ages and stages can also help you identify and avoid household dangers for younger children and babies, such as open drawers or small items that could be choking hazards. Here’s where taking a course and having experience working with children will give you plenty of know-how. You might also consider reading books on child development.

8. Know how to prevent and handle common child behaviours

When it comes to caring for children, gaining experience and practice on a childcare course can also help prepare you for any tricky behavioural situations that may arise.

A few situations that tend to throw sitters include:

  • Separation anxiety: “I was babysitting a 2-year-old whose whole family went out,” says Megan. “She stood at the door, screaming and crying for over an hour and hated me because she thought they were behind the door and that I was keeping her from them. In the end, I just started making dinner, and she wandered over for tear-filled mac and cheese.”
  • Bedtime battles: Amie says that one of her biggest struggles was when a toddler she was babysitting hid behind a couch to avoid bedtime. She had to call her own mother to come and help her get him out.
  • Trouble with transitions: Something as seemingly simple as putting on a coat and shoes to play outside can very quickly turn into a power struggle, says Ellison.

Preventing and dealing with difficult behaviours will be easier if you understand how to communicate effectively with children.

It is helpful to give children choices. If you really need them to get their shoes on because you need to be somewhere, instead of telling them “Put on your shoes,” you may be more successful asking them if they want to wear the red ones or the blue ones. Learning how to talk to children appropriately can help the whole day go more smoothly.

9. Employ great decision-making skills

There will be problems on the job, and many of these will be unforeseen.

“I had a toddler that got accidentally locked in a room with one of those pinhole door knobs,” says Megan. “She wasn’t tall enough to reach the handle, so I had to search the whole house for something to stick in the hole to let her out of the room. She thought we were playing hide-and-seek and that I was really bad at it!”

When it comes to decision-making, the FIND model can be helpful:

  • Figure out the problem.
  • Identify possible solutions.
  • Name the pros and cons.
  • Decide on the best solution.

This model can help you make decisions in almost any scenario you encounter, in babysitting and in your life in general.

10. Communicate effectively with your family and your employers

If you’re a minor, make sure that your parents or guardians are on board with all aspects of your babysitting plans. This can include how you’re going to get to and from jobs, how far away they are, and how comfortable they are with the families you’ll be babysitting for and the hours you’ll be working.

And, of course, you should be clear on the expectations of the family you’re babysitting for. Ask as many questions as you can before the job begins, and you’ll be better equipped for handling the job. Always ask how much you’ll be paid and if you can arrive early to familiarize yourself with the home and prepare for the job.

11. Be ready to handle special and unexpected situations

Ask if there are any pets or concerns such as allergies or special needs. It’s important to know the ins and outs of what the job will entail, and you don’t want to be blindsided by an allergy attack or a Great Dane you didn’t realize you’d have to feed and walk while caring for the children.

Knowing as much as you can in advance will make you more confident and able to handle situations, both big and small. And however well you prepare for your babysitting job, there are bound to be surprises along the way.

“Once a friend and I babysat three kids and one of them threw up, which triggered my friend, who then also threw up!” says Amy. She adeptly dealt with the children while her friend was sick in the bathroom. An experienced babysitter knows not to panic in situations like this.

It really is a big responsibility to take care of someone so young; so many things could go wrong. That’s where your prep pays off, as well as your personality and your ability to stay cool under pressure.



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