Babysitting isn't as simple as showing up at the door and jumping right in to childcare. You've got to do some preparation first so you know what the parents expect of you and what the child or children need! This is true whether you've known the family for years or you're just meeting one another now.
The best way to do this is to set up a "getting to know you" meeting at the parent's home a few days before you're going to babysit. If you can't arrange this, at least show up an hour early on the big day so you can make sure you get all the info you need.
Here are some things you might want to bring up:
Expectations. What exactly do the parents expect of you as a babysitter? Since different families might have different ideas of what a babysitter should do, make sure to get a detailed list of what they want. Do they expect you to feed the child? Take her out to play? Look after a pet at the same time? Take phone messages? Do the laundry?
- If the parent is just ducking out for an hour, you may only have to watch the child and keep her out of trouble.
- If the parents are going out for the whole day or the whole night, they may expect you to do a lot more, like prepare a meal, help her with homework, and get the child into bed.
Style. When you talk to the parents, try to get a sense of their parenting style. Do they have a lot of specific rules or are they casual about most things? Does a 7:00pm bedtime mean exactly 7:00pm, or just around 7:00pm?
Get the digits. Make sure to get all the important phone numbers from the parents and put them right by the phone in case you need to call.
- The parents' cell phone, or the number where they will be. Make sure the parents give you guidelines for when and when not to call. What kinds of situations are important enough to call them, and which situations do they want you to handle on your own?
- Police, Fire, Ambulance, and Poison Control. These may be different numbers, or your area may have a 911 system, which means you call 9-1-1 in any emergency situation. Remember: In the event of something like a fire, burglary, or serious accident or injury, always dial 9-1-1 or the emergency number BEFORE calling the child's parents. You want help to arrive as soon as possible, so call the professionals immediately. Then, if it's safe to do so, call the parents.
Diet. When and what should you feed the child? Are there any foods he can't have? Does he have any allergies? What's the policy on snacks?
Medicine. Is the child on any medications? Are you expected to give them? When, and how much?
- Bath Time. Do the parents want you to bathe the child? Should this be done as part of a bedtime routine? Do you use the big tub or a special baby tub? What bath products do you use? Should you help the child brush her teeth, etc.? Remember: Never give a child a bath unless the parents specifically tell you to. Because of the risk of drowning, bathing a child can be very dangerous, and most parents will not let a babysitter do this. Of course, if the kids are older, they may be expected to take care of their own baths or showers, so make sure you ask.
- Story Time. Is the child used to having a story? What are his favorite books? Is there a chair he likes to read in or does he get his story in bed?
- Bedtime. When does the child need to go to bed, and what are her usual bedtime routines? Does she have a blanket or a favorite stuffed animal? Does she need to wear a certain sleeper or pair of pajamas? Is there a night-light she needs to have on? Does she sleep with the bedroom door closed or slightly open? Is there a baby monitor so you can listen in as she sleeps?
Toys, games, and activities. What are the child's favorite things to do? What toys does she like? What games does she like to play? If the child is old enough, you can ask her directly; otherwise ask the parent for a list of things that will keep her happy and entertained.
Personality. Try to get a good idea of the kid's basic personality. Is he shy? Outgoing? Fussy? Easy to please? This may give you a good idea of how easy or challenging this kid will be to sit for, and let you think up some strategies for making your time together go smoothly.
Siblings. If you'll be babysitting for more than one child, find out how they get along together. Do they play well or do they often fight? Are there conflicts over certain toys or activities? What works well for the parents when kids start arguing?
Next: Safety First!