Being a good babysitter takes a lot of work, care, and ingenuity. You need to know the rules, how to keep the child entertained, and what to do when an emergency arises.
Whether it's your first time watching a child or you've been babysitting for years, here are 11 tips for how to be a good babysitter.
1. Understand your comfort level
Before you agree to babysit, know your limitations. Ask parents specific and careful questions about their expectations and what they want from a babysitter. This will help you understand better if you can or cannot meet those needs. It will help you decide if you’re the right fit for the family. Always ask specifically how many children you will be watching, and their ages.
2. Keep an open line of communication
When you’re babysitting, don't feel like you have to figure out everything on your own. Always reach out to the parents if you have any questions or face any issues. It could be as simple as, "I can't find the extra wipes" or as complex as, "Your son is highly upset and I’m not sure how to calm him down. Nothing I've done works."
You should also let them know about any concerns you have, like if their child is being picked on by a neighbor. By keeping an open line of communication, you’re building trust with the parents. It shows that you want to make sure their child is safe and healthy.
3. Be prepared for everything
Your number one priority as a babysitter is to keep the child you're watching safe. That means being prepared for any and every issue or emergency that could happen.
Keep a list of important phone numbers on hand at all times. You’ll want to include numbers for other family members and poison control so you know who to call in a crisis.
Ask for a list of the child's allergies (food, seasonal, pet, and other types) and what you need to do in the event of an allergic reaction. Learn what types of toys and foods are choking hazards so you can avoid them. Being proactive will allow you to stay calm and levelheaded if an emergency arises.
4. Be well-informed
Preparation isn't limited to emergency numbers and allergy checks. Some hazards may fall under your radar when planning on your own. Talk to experienced babysitters and take a child safety or babysitter training course to get a handle on all types of babysitting possibilities.
5. Be organized
Kids do well with structure and routine. As the babysitter, it's your job to uphold the schedule a parent has set. You might want to keep a separate day planner for each child you are watching.
The calendar should include regular meal, nap, and play times for each day you're in charge. List the types of foods you'll feed them for each day, and how long they should nap and play. Having a clear agenda for how a child's day should go will help you limit the potential for chaos. Ask specifically if any friends are allowed over and if so, ask for their names ahead of time.
6. Be active and have fun
It may seem easy to entertain a kid by setting them in front of the TV or computer screen. A good babysitter, though, will engage the child in other activities. First, learn the parent's house rules about playtime. Ask if their kid can go to a playground, what their favorite toys are, and which games and electronics are off-limits. Then plan out which activities are best to keep their child active and having fun.
Go outside and play archeologist. Stay inside and play pillow fort captain. And if the kid you're watching has a disability, make sure you know how to engage them in activities so they're not excluded.
7. Reinforce rules and limits
Kids will test you and push limits. Testing their limits is part of growing up. You may be tempted to allow them to break all their parent's rules so they see you as the "cool" babysitter. You shouldn't give in, though.
Children do best with structure and boundaries. They help teach kids self-discipline and self-control. Find out the rules of the house and stick to them, even if you disagree. But also know when it’s OK to "break" the rules, like eating an extra cookie or staying up 10 minutes past bedtime. You'll earn the respect of the parent and the child if you’re responsible and trustworthy.
8. Be watchful
There are dangers in and outside of the home. It's not enough to be prepared for emergencies. You also have to be watchful. Stay in close proximity to the child you're watching. If you're at the playground, put away your cell phone. Keep your eye on the kid, not the screen. If you're sucked into texting or a phone call, you may miss the child trying a jump that could break a leg.
9. Be open to criticism
There's a chance you may do something that upsets or worries a parent. Be open to their concerns. Ask how you can do a better job and reassure them that you won't make those same mistakes.
10. Be gentle and caring
A good babysitter is empathetic and kind to the child they're watching, even when they have to be stern. Children are both resilient and fragile. They’re also stubborn and impressionable. Remember, they're still learning and growing. Be understanding of their mistakes. Lend a sympathetic ear when they're upset. Be caring and let the child know that you’re their confidante.
11. Be flexible
Parents may run late or may need to leave earlier than expected. Try and be flexible. Show up early and stay late. Be clear about your limits, but be flexible. It will show parents that you're dependable.
Babysitting can be a challenging job at times, but it’s also rewarding. Remember, the children’s safety is the number one priority, so always be prepared for emergencies that may come up. But don’t forget to have some fun with the kids, too.
What are some resources for getting trained in CPR and first aid as a babysitter?
The American Red Cross (redcross.org) is a good place to start. You can also check with your local hospital, junior college, or parks and recreation department. Online classes are more convenient and often less expensive, but a hands-on class will likely give you more confidence, particularly your first time getting trained in CPR.Karen Gill, MD, FAAP Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.