July 26, 2021
By Heidi Rosenholtz
Just because your middle-school child can’t keep track of her homework doesn’t mean she can’t succeed at the adolescent rite of passage called babysitting. In fact, kids with attention issues are often ideally suited to the task, especially if they’re creative, energetic, and spontaneous.
What makes them great, however, may also be problematic. Learning to balance what’s best for the baby with what’s fun for the babysitter may take a bit more focus than your child can muster. So before you send her down the street to care for your neighbor’s little ones, make sure she is equipped to do the job. The keys to success begin with you.
Evaluate Interest and Readiness
- Look at your child objectively. Has she expressed an interest in babysitting? Does she love being with young kids—and if so, how young? She may not be ready to be left alone with infants or toddlers who can’t verbalize their needs, but she may be great interacting with a 5-year-old.
- Think in terms of experience. Has he been around young ones often? What kinds of activities does he enjoy that might transfer into the role of entertainer/teacher: Painting? Singing? Sports? Does he have the patience and temperament to teach a younger child?
Assess Understanding of the Job
- Make sure your child understands what’s involved. If she gets bored with an activity that the kids are enjoying, she can’t go do something else. Children with attention issues are as likely to get stuck on something as they are to become distracted—especially if they are interested in the activity. If the three-year-old has had enough finger painting but your daughter isn’t yet finished with her work of art, she has to recognize that going about her business is not an option; she must either switch activities or engage the child in helping her finish.
Get to Know the Family
- Visit first. If you don’t know the other family, ask to visit them with your child at least once before he starts working there.
- Prepare ahead. Make sure you or your child prepares a list of questions aimed at clarifying expectations. Is the babysitter supposed to feed the child? Give her snacks? Monitor screen time? Read her a bedtime story?
- Do a test run. If after a visit, either you or your child feels unsure, suggest that she visit when an adult is home. It’s not unusual for one or both parents to be in the home when they’re trying out a new babysitter. With middle schoolers, several test runs might be in order.
Practice, Practice, Practice
- Role play possible scenarios. Prior to his first babysitting outing, role play a few situations he might encounter. For example, a stubborn child who refuses to do something such as put his toys away, or go to bed on time. Talk through various scenarios, eliciting his ideas and bolstering them with concrete strategies: turn clean-up into a game; going to bed into a competition, etc.
- Clarify emergency procedures. Review what constitutes an emergency and how the parents expect emergencies to be handled. Ensure that there is a list of contact numbers readily available and let your budding babysitter know she can call you should the need arise—or even for a little moral support.
If at any time you have serious doubts about your child’s ability to do the job, just say no. Don’t be afraid to postpone a babysitting career until your child is more mature. Babysitting solo may be best left to high schoolers and those who have completed a babysitting course or have lots of experience with younger siblings. That’s a decision for you and your middle schooler to make.
Heidi Rosenholtz is an academic and productivity coach for adolescents and business professionals.