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Recent question: “My 12-year-old daughter wants to babysit. I think she is too young for this responsibility and I would feel responsible if something happened.”
Whenever I’m asked “At what age can a child do—?” my answer is almost always that it depends. It depends on maturity levels as well as chronological age.
How can parents judge the maturity levels in their child? You can best gauge how responsible your child is by how well the child follows directions, does things without being reminded, and demonstrates that he or she has internalized safety rules.
If I had an 12-year-old who wanted to babysit I would encourage her to start as a “mother’s helper” playing with a toddler or taking a baby for a ride in the stroller while the mother is preparing supper. This is a good way for her to get experience and learn about the care of babies. Also suggest that your daughter take a course in baby sitting and go to the library for books on the subject.
Babysitting can be a most valuable experience for the sitter, the parents, and the baby. Baby sitters help parents meet their own needs for couple time and also help the baby get used to the fact that Mommy and Daddy won’t always be around.
Both the parents of the child being cared for and the parents of the sitter should be sure the sitter knows the following:
o How to lock all doors from the inside. If you have a dead bolt show the sitter where the key is kept and explain that the key must always be in its place.
o Fire safety. Rehearse with the sitter what should be done if a fire breaks out. Teach all children that if they smell smoke or see a fire, the rules are: first, get everybody out of the house; call the fire department from a neighbor’s house; never go back into the house or try to rescue anything from the house.
o How to use the telephone in an emergency (call 911, give address, name, and nature of the problem). Role play with your child until you both feel comfortable with the child’s ability to get help through the 911 system.
o How to get hold of the parents. The sitter should always have the number where the parents can be reached but should clearly understand that 911 should be called first in an emergency.
o Parents leaving a young child with a sitter should always have a backup system like a neighbor who is willing to be on call for a problem.
o Sitters should keep the blinds drawn and all windows and patio doors locked.
o Sitters should know where the flashlight and transistor radio are located in case of a power failure.
o Sitters must know there are some not-nice people in the world. They must never open the door to a stranger or revealing that he or she is home alone.
o The sitter should be taught to hang up and call the parents or the neighbor if he or she gets a crank or obscene phone call.
The parents of the baby have additional things to teach such as where the diapers, bottles, toys, etc. are located and what to do if the baby wakes up. There must also be clear rules about using the telephone, not having friends visit (babysitting is a serious job, not a social occasion), and what the sitter can take from the refrigerator for a snack. Babysitting fees should be decided on in advance and promptly paid. If parents are unavoidably delayed, they should call the sitter and, of course, the sitter should be escorted home at night.
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