Why do parents hire a babysitter? Because they need someone to be in charge in their place. They want to know if you have what it takes to Be Responsible while they’re gone. Here are five ways to show your “clients” that you are up to the challenge!
Get the details in writing
Many parents will already have the necessary information written down for you: their cell numbers, emergency contact names and numbers, and so on. But, if you want to impress them with your preparedness and responsibility, you can bring your own form (and even fill in what you already know before you go!). You’ll find a good example of an emergency contact sheet at KidsHealth.org.
Parents aren’t expecting you to know everything from the minute you arrive. Especially when you’re babysitting a child for the first time, find out as much as you can about:
- Routines — bedtime, bathtime, naptime, and meals
- Likes and dislikes — foods, special toys or activities, anything they’re particularly afraid of
- Previous experiences with babysitters
- Preferred communication while you’re babysitting — text or phone call, etc.
- Safety precautions and concerns — how to operate the security system or baby gates, places in the neighborhood they’d prefer you to avoid
- Location of first aid supplies and fire extinguishers
Be ready to be in charge
It might be tempting to be the “cool babysitter” who lets the kids do whatever they want as long as they don’t get hurt. And, prepare for the kids to test your limits; they’ll want to know exactly how much they can get away with while Mom and Dad are gone!
But, always remember: you were hired to be a substitute parent, not a friend! Once you know what the parents’ expectations are — for bedtime, sweets, or anything else — stick to them. The kids will probably push back, hoping that you’ll give in, but you’ll gain the parents’ trust (and, surprisingly, the kids’) if you keep to the schedule and guidelines you were given.
Understand how to discipline
Part of being in charge is knowing how to respond when the kids push your limits and don’t follow the rules that Mom and Dad want them to. Here are some ideas to help you stay calm and in charge:
- Did you know that “to discipline” actually means “to teach”? Children learn by copying what they see other people do, and the kids you’re babysitting will be watching you to see how you respond to their behavior.
- Use the idea of cause-and-effect when you teach a child why a certain action isn’t appropriate. “When you hit me with that toy, it hurts. Please don’t do that again.”
- If you’re enforcing a rule that the parents have asked you to keep, don’t give in if the kids whine and cry. A technique that works really well is the “broken record”: “I’m sorry, Mom and Dad said no. I’m sorry, Mom and Dad said no.” Eventually, children will get tired of hearing the same answer over and over, and you’ve managed to keep the house rules.
- Give the children limited choices. Instead of saying, “If you stop fighting, we can do whatever you want,” offer them two alternatives: “When you stop fighting, we can go play catch in the yard or we can blow bubbles.”
- “Catch” the children when they’re doing the right thing! “Wow, Declan, thanks for using your words to tell me how you’re feeling right now” or “Nice job walking away when you felt frustrated.”
- Be consistent. Children feel safest when they know that they’ll get the same response every time (even though they don’t realize it!). Make sure that “no” is really no and “yes” is really yes, and stick to it.
- Try to use distraction to get kids unstuck from a pattern of behavior. Especially with infants and toddlers, your best logic and being consistent is probably not going to help them stop a tantrum or stop crying. Sometimes, a change in their focus — a distraction — is all that it takes to help them move on. You can try taking the baby to a different room of the house and pointing at bright colors or anything else that might get them to look, or bring out a toy that he or she hasn’t seen in awhile. For a toddler, playing (appropriate!) music can distract a child just long enough to calm down and be ready to do something new. And, if it’s allowed under house rules, sometimes an electronic distraction (like a favorite TV show or iPad app) can flip the switch from crying to calm. Just don’t make it the only activity the children do while you’re there!
Distraction is also the best tool for handling any separation anxiety that can happen when Mom and Dad walk out the door. Yes, it’s good to remind the child that Mommy and Daddy will come back, but usually what works best is switching their attention to something fun, rather than talking for a long time about Mommy and Daddy being gone.
- DO NOT HIT OR SPANK or use any other kind of discipline that falls under the category of corporal punishment! Even if you’ve seen the parents do it, don’t. The same goes for yelling or swearing.
- Remember that younger children are still learning the difference between right and wrong. Try not to take it personally if they talk back, make a mess, or do the exact thing you just told them not to do. For a toddler, it’s often enough to change the situation (for example, gently taking away the dangerous object she grabbed or moving her away from the things she was using to make a mess) and explaining why she shouldn’t do what she was doing. For an older child, you can have them sit in the “quiet chair” (some people call it the “naughty chair”) for the same number of minutes as their age. Just make sure that wherever you have her sit, you can still keep an eye on her!
- Sometimes, and as a final tactic, asking the question “Do we need to call Mom or Dad and tell them about this?” is all that is necessary to stop inappropriate behavior. Just be ready to actually make the call if need be; if you threaten it over and over without ever doing it, the child won’t believe you’ll actually do it.
Keep track of how things went
Especially if you’re watching an infant, Mom and Dad may want to know when the baby ate, napped, and needed a diaper change. Find out how much they’d like to know when they get home, and write it down. Even if your job involves older children, having a basic summary of your time with the kids will impress the parents.
“We had dinner around 5PM. Ashley didn’t want to eat her vegetables, so I gave her a banana instead. We watched Toy Story after dinner until bath time at 7PM, and she fell asleep a little after 8PM.”
And, if you had any major behavioral issues — repeated hitting, biting, etc. — do bring it to the parents’ attention. It might be something they want to work on within their family, and if you’re the first babysitter their kids have had, it is good information for them to have.
Let them know immediately if you have to cancel
You’ve been hired to babysit because the parents have somewhere else to be! If for any reason you’ll need to cancel, let the family know as soon as possible, so that they can make other arrangements. Things happen, and your “client” will be more likely to hire you again if you give them as much notice as you can. (Just make sure it’s a real reason for cancelling — you’re sick or have to attend a funeral, for example — and not that you got a better offer or had something fun come up!)
Think of babysitting as a business
While babysitting is both fun and a way to help parents who need some time away from home, it’s also a business deal: the parents are paying you to provide a service. By being prepared, safe, and responsible, you’re doing your part to be a good “businesswoman” or “businessman”, and to make sure that your “clients” are as satisfied as possible.
When people are applying for a “regular” job, they usually make a résumé: a detailed list of the experience they have that makes them a great candidate for the position. Even if you’re a new babysitter, you still have experiences you can use to show that you will do a terrific job watching children. Start by making a list of your history of child care. Do you have younger brothers and sisters? Did you volunteer at a preschool, camp, or nursery? Write down who you cared for and when. Next, think of any kid-friendly skills you have and enjoy: crafts, sports, telling stories, and so on. Finally — and this is the fun part — put your history and skills together on paper! It doesn’t have to be a boring grown-up kind of résumé; it can be fun and colorful and, most of all, it should show your future “clients” that you’re ready to be their best babysitter ever. Have a look at some samples from other babysitters to get an idea of how you’d like to make yours.
One question that often comes up for new and experienced babysitters is “How much should I charge?” That’s a great question, and you might even get that question from new families asking you to babysit! So, how do you know how much to charge?
- Ask around. Do you have friends that babysit? Find out how much they get paid. Does it depend on how many children they watch? On how much they’re asked to do while they’re babysitting (some families ask babysitters to cook meals or clean, too)? That will give you a rough idea of the “going rate” in your area.
- Try an online “rate calculator”. For example, the babysitter and caregiver website Care.com has a calculator that will tell you the average rate for babysitters in your zip code (but keep in mind that what a family pays a babysitter that can drive and take kids to activities is probably very different from what they’d pay an 11-year-old to stay at their home for a few hours).
- Find out what the parents have paid babysitters in the past. Of course, this only works if you’re not the first babysitter the family has had. If you are the first sitter, don’t be afraid to ask the family what they were thinking would be fair. It’s hard doing the “dance” between the family asking you what you charge, and you asking the family what they’d like to pay, so don’t be surprised if it makes you a little uncomfortable. ☺
The more you treat babysitting as your business, and not just something you do to make money, the more likely you are to have “clients” that are impressed with your mature approach to watching their children and who want to hire you (and keep hiring you!).