Dear Dish-It: Help Me Be The Perfect Babysitter!

Dear Dish-It,

My parents finally said that I was allowed to babysit and I’m so happy. But I’m sorta scared. I mean, I’m going to take a CPR class with my dad. And me and my BFF are taking a babysitting class. But I want to be the perfect babysitter. Can you help me out?


Dear childlover,

Congratulations! I’m happy that your parents agreed to let you become a babysitter. It’s a big job with lots of responsibility, but it can be really fun, too, and a great way to earn some extra cash. The CPR and babysitting courses you’re planning on taking will be great in terms of teaching you some important skills you need to know when babysitting. Here are a few other tips and tricks that may help you on your quest to become a great babysitter!

It's All About Responsibility

Being a babysitter is all about responsibility. As long as you're on the job, you're in charge. Not only do you have to make sure the kids are happy, you have to make sure they're safe and that their needs are taken care of.

Be Prepared

It's not just for boy scouts: "Be prepared" is the motto for anyone who wants to know what to do in an emergency. Most babysitting jobs are a breeze and nothing goes wrong — except maybe for an occasional fight over the last orange Popsicle. But for the rare times when an emergency does happen, you want to be ready to handle it. Being prepared means making sure you know the right phone numbers and contact information, medical information about the kids' you're babysitting, and lifesaving information like fire safety procedures and CPR.

Emergency Numbers

A lot of parents keep emergency numbers posted by the phone or on the fridge. They should include the following numbers. If you don't see them, ask:

  • the local emergency number (911 in most areas, but check to be sure)
  • the number for the fire department that covers the area in which you're babysitting (if different from the local emergency number)
  • the number for the police covering the area in which you're babysitting (if different from the local emergency number)
  • the number for the local poison control center

  • You'll also want to ask parents to leave these other important numbers:

  • their cell phone or beeper number (if they have one); if not, the number for the place where they'll be
  • phone numbers for a few trusted neighbors
  • phone numbers of any relatives who live in the area
  • phone number for the children's doctor

  • Ask parents which number to call first. If there's a serious medical emergency, the best practice is to call 911 first. If it's a less serious situation, such as cuts or scrapes, parents may want you to call them before calling the doctor. Find out what their preferences are.

    Medical Information

    You'll want parents to show you where the first aid kit is, but you'll also need to get information about a child's medical conditions and how they should be handled. Ask these questions:

    1. Is a child taking medicine? If so, what is it, when should the child take it (and how much), and are there any side effects to look out for?
    2. Do any kids have asthma? If so, what do you need to do to control and monitor it?
    3. Do any kids have allergies? If so, to what? And what might you need to do to help control or manage them?

    For example, if a child is allergic to bee stings, you will want to know where the parents keep the kid's epinephrine shot (a pen-like device that gives a shot of fast-acting medication that can save the life of someone with severe allergies). The parent should also train you in how to use the shot on the child — it's easy if you know how to do it.

    If there is anything you are uncomfortable being responsible for, let the parent know before accepting the job. There may be other people who can step in to help or other things you can do. If the parent doesn't understand your feelings, or if you don't feel well enough informed to do a good job, this might not be the right situation for you. There are lots of babysitting jobs available and you shouldn't have to feel uncomfortable.

    Fire Safety Procedures

    Ask parents to write down the full home address. It may sound basic to ask where you are, but it's so basic that many people forget to make sure they know. You may know it's the green house four houses down from yours, but that won't help the fire department in an emergency. It's also easy to forget small details like a street name or number when you're caught up in an emergency — some people even forget their own address.

    Every family should have a fire escape plan with more than one exit from the home, as well as a designated meeting place outside the house or apartment building. Be sure that both you and the kids know them. Practicing fire escape plans can be a good activity for the kids and, like school fire drills, it never hurts to run through a family's escape plan regularly. Make sure the kids know not to hide; to stay low to the ground; to feel doors and doorknobs for heat before opening them; to stop, drop, and roll if their clothes or hair catch fire; and to not go back into the house for any reason. Even preschoolers can learn and understand fire safety procedures.

    Make sure the smoke alarms in the home have been tested. Parents can never test them too often, and that way you know they're working for your own peace of mind. Finally, ask the child's parents to show you where they keep fire extinguishers.

    Lifesaving Techniques

    It's a good idea to learn basic first aid (which includes the Heimlich maneuver for choking) and infant and child CPR before embarking on your babysitting career. Not only will these skills help you feel more confident, they could give you an edge over other babysitters because parents really like these qualifications. Check with your local hospital, YMCA, or Red Cross; they often offer babysitting courses that include training in these areas. Some high schools do, too. Because you'll have to attend courses and make a real commitment to learn these lifesaving procedures, make sure you talk it over with your parents.

    Know What to Expect

    Every family you babysit for will be a little different. Having an idea of what to expect can make your babysitting experience safer and more enjoyable for everyone:

  • Know the family and the neighborhood. Your safety is as important as the safety of the kids you'll be watching. If this is a first babysitting job or you're just starting out, make sure you or your parents know and trust the family you're babysitting for. Give your parents the address and phone number of where you'll be, and let them know when and how you expect to be getting home. It can feel strange to be in charge of an unfamiliar home, so help yourself feel more secure by locking windows and doors after the parents leave. Don't answer the door to strangers and never tell telephone callers that you are alone. If there is an answering machine at the house where you are babysitting, use it to screen callers you don't know.
  • Know the kids you'll be babysitting. Of course, babysitting a 2-month-old baby is pretty different from babysitting a 10-year-old kid. Know the ages of the kids ahead of time. If you don't feel comfortable babysitting a newborn, for example, then don't take the job. You need to feel you're in control, and if you're unsure, it's better to wait for the next job.
  • Know how many kids you'll be babysitting. You think you're babysitting for the Simon twins, but when you arrive you also see their two 5-year-old cousins and a 7-year-old friend. Perhaps you're not ready to take care of five small kids at once. Most adults aren't! So ask ahead of time how many kids there will be — including friends and relatives. If you arrive and there are too many kids, say something to the parents. They may let you call a friend to help, or they may call and ask another babysitter to come and join you. And if you get loaded up with too many kids again, cross the family off your babysitting list.
  • Know how you'll get home. Make sure that you have a ride home from your babysitting job. Don't wait until the last minute — check before you leave your house to make sure that a parent or sibling can pick you up at the right time. If the parents you're babysitting agree to take you home, that's great, but don't assume that they can or will. If you live within walking distance but it's after dark when the parents get back, ask someone to walk you home.
  • Eating, bathing, homework, and other fun stuff. You need to know exactly what's expected of you. It's not unusual for parents to want you to feed the kids, give them a bath, or help them with their homework before you put them to bed. Plus, make sure you know if the kids have any special requirements. For example, parents should tell you about any food allergies or nutrition needs a child has before you start whipping up dinner.

  • Stay Focused On The Kids At All Times

    It doesn't matter how short or how long your babysitting assignment is. As long as you're in charge of kids, your job is to babysit — and nothing else. Naturally, this doesn't mean that you can't go to the bathroom. But otherwise, you should be with the kids every minute they are awake. It can be pretty tempting to leave them in one room while you watch TV in another room, but kids can get into trouble pretty quickly. Keeping an eye on everyone means you'll be less likely to need those emergency numbers.

    This rule is especially important if you're giving kids a bath. Never leave a child unattended in the tub, even for a minute; small children can drown in as little as an inch of water. If the phone rings, let the answering machine pick it up or let the caller call back. And if you have a bashful kid who's embarrassed to be naked, draw the shower curtain to give him or her some privacy. You could also bring a book or magazine into the bathroom with you and "read" while the child takes a bath, covering your face if you have to.

    Once the kids are in bed, you are free to do what you want — within the parents' guidelines. Most parents will say it's fine to watch TV or movies or to talk on the phone. Just remember to keep calls from the family's phone local and short, in case the parents try to call and check on the kids.

    Some parents may say it's fine to have a friend come over after the kids are asleep, but you should definitely ask if it's OK to have a friend visit beforehand to avoid problems. If you don't ask and the parents come home early and find you and your pal hanging out, they may not ask you to babysit again. Some parents may think you're too distracted by the friend to focus on the kids; others may not like the thought of someone they don't know in the house. Just as you want to know what to expect, so do they.

    Even if a child is in bed, be aware that he or she may need you. It's a good idea to check on the kids every half hour or so. Don't get so involved in other activities that you miss a child's call or an unusual noise. Nightmares, a drink of water — anything that wakes a kid and gets him or her out of bed is something you need to be there for.

    After a night of successful babysitting, you'll have more than a heavier wallet and a great referral. You'll have the satisfaction of a job well done — and you'll have learned more about what's involved in taking care of kids!

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