Be Prepared

One of the biggest worries parents have about leaving their children with a babysitter is “What if there’s an emergency?”  By learning the Babysitter Basics about First Aid and what to do if a child gets sick or hurt, you’ll be able to let parents know that you know exactly how to handle anything that could happen.  It would be a great idea to take a training course on CPR and First Aid!  But, if there isn’t a class available near you, you can still learn what you need to know in an emergency. 

When to call 911

Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you the same thing:  “I’d rather be safe than sorry.”  In other words, if you think it might be a good idea to call 911, do it!  Parents want you to take the best possible care of their children, and being really careful is much better than not careful enough.  Here are some reasons you would call 911:

  • someone is unconscious
  • someone is choking
  • someone is having trouble breathing
  • there’s a fire

You’ve probably never had to call 911 before, so you should know that the operator will ask what the emergency is, where you are, who needs help, and who is with you.  Try to stay calm; the operator will use your answers to make the best decision about who to send to help you.  The operator will also give you directions for how to help the person who is sick or hurt.


Do you know what CPR stands for?  Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation is the scientific way to describe what is done to restart someone’s heart or breathing.  Don’t get scared:  most babysitters have hundreds of jobs and never need to use CPR!  But, in order to follow the “B” of being prepared, you’ll want to understand how CPR works and how it’s done on both infants (under one year old) and children (up to 8 years old).

Follow these links and watch the videos to see how CPR is done: 

Infant CPR - poster + video demonstration

Child CPR - poster + video demonstration

Things to remember:

  • If you think a child you’re caring for needs CPR, take the time to call 911 first.  The operator will get an ambulance on the way, and he or she can also walk you through the steps of CPR over the phone. 
  • Think 30 and 2:  30 chest compressions, and 2 breaths.


It can be scary to see someone choking, but if you keep calm and look at the situation, you’ll be able to make the best decision about how to act.

If you think a child is choking, ask him or her if she is OK.  If they can talk or cough, it means they’re still able to breathe.  Watch them carefully for a few minutes: the problem will likely fix itself, and you don’t need to do anything.

However, if the child can’t speak, cough, or breathe, you’ll need to act quickly.  Follow these links to see how to perform the Heimlich maneuver:

Infant choking - poster + video demonstration

Child choking - poster + video demonstration

Things to remember:

  • If you think a child you’re caring for needs the Heimlich maneuver, take the time to call 911 first.  The operator will send help (an ambulance, the fire department or a police officer) and can give you directions over the phone until help arrives.
  • Preventing choking is easier than fixing it.  For children that are younger than 4 years old, don’t feed them foods that are likely to make them choke: grapes, raw carrots, popcorn, etc.  If you give young children grapes, cut them in half.  For hot dogs, cut them the long way and into small pieces.  The idea is to avoid anything that would be the size of their windpipe.


Seeing a child bleeding can get your heart racing, but most cuts aren’t a big deal.  If a cut is minor, you’ll see that it’s small, not very deep, and it stops bleeding on its own.  A more serious cut is wide and/or deep and continues to bleed even when you put pressure on it with a cloth or bandage. 

For minor cuts, you should:

  • Clean the cut with mild soap and warm water (the child will probably not like it much!)
  • Put on Neosporin or other antibacterial ointment, if you know where to find some
  • Use a clean bandage to cover the cut

For more serious cuts, you should:

  • Slow down the bleeding by raising the part of the body with the cut (for example, holding the child’s hand above his or her head if the cut is on a finger)
  • Once the bleeding slows down, use water to rinse the cut, and then put pressure on it with a clean cloth or bandage.  If the blood soaks through that first cloth or bandage, put another on top of the first and keep putting pressure on it
  • Call 911 if the bandages or cloths continue to be soaked with blood


Whether you call it vomiting, puking, upchucking, or throwing up, it’s one of the grossest things that can happen when you’re babysitting!  Fortunately, the cause is usually very simple:  a stomach virus. 

If a child that you’re watching vomits, your first task is to help him or her get cleaned up, calmed down, and resting quietly (don’t forget to grab a bowl and put it nearby, in case there’s more to come!).  It’s a nasty job, but you’ll want to get it taken care of before the smell (or the virus) gets to you!

Next, you’ll need to call the parents.  Because most parents don’t knowingly leave a sick child with a babysitter, chances are that they didn’t know their child was sick and they’ll want you to let them know. 

Finally, you should try to get the child to replace the fluids lost by vomiting.  For a younger child, try one or two tablespoons of water or watered-down juice every 15 minutes.  For an older child, water is best, but make sure he or she drinks very slowly so that the liquids stay down.

Head injuries

From trips and falls to accidents outside, it’s pretty common for kids to wind up with a bump on the head.  While most head injuries aren’t serious, you’ll always want to call the child’s parents: the child may need to be watched for 24 hours, to make sure that any symptoms don’t get worse.

In a mild head injury, you might see:

  • slight swelling on the scalp
  • mild headache
  • vomiting immediately after the injury occurs
  • a cut on the scalp

With a more serious head injury, symptoms can include:

  • severe headache
  • stumbling or dizziness
  • blood or fluid coming out of the ear or nose
  • confusion or extreme sleepiness
  • vomiting multiple times, or vomiting hours after the injury happened

If you think the head injury is serious, call 911 right away.

These five things — CPR, choking, cuts, vomiting, and head injuries — are the most important areas to Be Prepared for any babysitting situation.  Of course, you should ask each new family you work for to let you know if there are any special circumstances in their home: allergies to food or insect stings, other medical conditions you should be aware of, and so on.  Most parents will tell you those things from the beginning, but it’s always good to ask!