Babysitting: Making Sure the Kids are Safe when You're not Home
Does the teen interact with your children? This sounds basic, but there are plenty of kids who see babysitting as a way to make easy money. They let the children run around doing what they want, and then they—the babysitters—spend time on the cell phone or watching television. Make sure your sitter seems interested in your children. It's a good sign if, when you come home from work, he or she tells you little stories about amusing or impressive things your kids did during the day. You can also tell a lot about the sitter from what your children say. You want them to feel like the sitter is a lot of fun, but also that he or she provides structure and a sense of safety.
Ask whether the babysitter has taken any courses that increase safety skills. There are sometimes babysitting classes offered by the Red Cross, the local YMCA or similar organizations. Often, these courses cover basic first aid and CPR. A teen who has taken the initiative to learn new skills is more likely to be a good bet than one who hasn't.
Information teenagers need from parents
Parents need to give out basic information to babysitters, and they also need to avoid being at all vague. Provide a list of all telephone numbers the sitter could need. Besides the obvious contact number for you, a sitter also needs numbers for
- Emergency medical assistance (this is almost always 911, but some areas are different). Numbers for fire and police in your area, if these are not 911.
- Poison Control (1-800-222-1222). This is especially important when caring for babies or toddlers.
- Your pediatrician
- Trusted nearby neighbors
Make sure your sitter knows what medications your child takes, when to take them, how to take them, etc. In the beginning, have the sitter come at least 15 minutes before you leave so you can show where medicines are and what to use to give the medicine. If your child has asthma or allergies, make sure the sitter knows what to do in case your child has an asthma attack or an allergic reaction.
Does the sitter know your house number? Very often, babysitters live in the neighborhood and they now exactly where your house is, but they have no idea what the number is. They'll need this in an emergency, so just check to make sure they know it, even though it seems basic.
Do you expect the sitter to give your children a bath? If so, do you stress the importance of never leaving a child alone in the tub?
Make sure the sitter knows your policy about what to do when the kids are in bed. Is it okay to have a friend over? To talk on the telephone? To watch television? if you have any restrictions, let them know.
Additionally, you need to be clear about what you expect of the sitter. For example, sometimes parents think nothing of having a child's friend spend the night and then be there for the babysitter the next day. But some babysitters may not feel comfortable caring for more than the number of children they've been expecting. Full disclosure is only fair!
Remember, summer is a time of increased visits to the emergency room. It's hard enough for parents when kids hurt themselves and need emergency services. It's even harder when things happen on a babysitter's watch. Advance preparation is essential!