Okay, so babysitting involves a lot of rules and responsibility. Is there anything FUN about it?
Sure! Because a big part of babysitting involves playing with kids and keeping them entertained. This helps both the kids in your care AND you. After all, a few hours with happy kids is a lot less work than the same amount of time with kids who are grumpy, angry, or sad. Here are some ideas for making your job easier:
- Play games. Kids usually love it when you're paying attention to them, so learn some age-appropriate games to play. Babies might love Peek-a-Boo, toddlers might like being chased around the floor, and older kids can play board games or trivia games with you.
- Watch a movie. Throw on a favorite video or DVD, or watch a new one (make sure the parents approve of it). Make it a special event with a blanket on the floor, snacks, etc.
- Plan a big activity. Kids look forward to a babysitter who they know will show them a good time (and are less likely to cause trouble for him or her). Find fun activities to do together, such as making crafts, writing a story, or acting out a musical. Go even further by planning a surprise for when the parents come home, like a card or gift.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, kids get fussy or misbehave. Here's how you can help turn things around:
When kids are fussy or in a bad mood, try to figure out why:
- Is she hungry? Will a snack or a drink do the trick?
- Is she tired? Is it time for a nap?
- Is she bored? Should you find a fun activity or game? Can a toy break the child out of the bad mood?
When kids misbehave, you've got to deal with it quickly, and with confidence:
- Let them know who's boss. Many kids will try to see how far they can push you, and might not do what you say because you're "not their parent." Make sure you're kind but firm, and let them know that as long as they're in your care, you're the boss!
- Be clear about rules and limits. Let kids know what you expect of them and stick to your guns. If you say they can only have two cookies at snack time, don't let them have four. If nap time is at noon, don't let them stay up until two.
- Be a good example. When you let kids know what is good behavior and what is unacceptable, be sure to practice what you preach. If you tell them that it's not okay to shout, don't start shouting yourself. If you want them to share with others, make sure you share too.
- Change the situation. When kids act up or cause trouble, try to get them into a new situation. Take them into a different room, give them a different toy, or take them for a walk. If you distract them like this, very young kids can quickly forget what they were upset about in the first place.
- Try a "time out." If an angry child needs to cool off, tell him to sit quietly alone for a certain number of minutes. A good rule of thumb is one minute for each year of the child's age (so a little girl who's four would get four minutes of time out). This can sometimes be enough to get her to settle down.
- Be fair. Kids get angry and frustrated if they think adults are "not being fair." Try not to show preference for one child over another and let the kids know you respect their rights, even if you have to lay down the law and make them follow the rules. They'll probably be better about listening to you if they see you as fair and honest.
- Separate fighting sibs. End conflicts and squabbles quickly by separating kids who are fighting. It doesn't matter who "started it," and you can let kids know this. Make sure kids understand that fighting is not allowed at any time and give them some time out. It's a good idea to talk to parents about issues or situations that might cause conflicts between sibs-and keep a lookout so you can stop fights before they start.
- Punishment. Sometimes kids have to know that bad behavior will result in punishment. Make sure you talk to parents beforehand about what you should do if you absolutely can't get kids to behave. They may tell you to send the child to his room, take away TV or videogame privileges, or take away snacks. You've got to follow the parents' lead on this, since your own idea of punishment may be different from theirs.
Remember: Never ever hit, strike, or push a child! This is abuse, and it's not allowed under any circumstances. No matter how stressful the situation is, there is a way to deal with it that does not involve violence.
Here's how some IML babysitting veterans have kept kids happy:
"One of the little girls I was watching was in a fight. A girl kept on calling her house to tell her mean stuff and the little girl always cried. I solved it by talking to her."
"I play with them and entertain them. Parents usually have entertainment ideas, but sometimes those don't work. Don't just park them in front of the TV! Play together, they'll learn to love you!"
"I let them have a TV dinner, and I bring out board games. I also have a canvas tote I decorated and I pack it with supplies (e.g. first aid kit in case of an emergency, videos, books, games, and arts and crafts supplies)."
"I usually would put on a puppet show. And I have a arts and crafts table."
"I go on the Internet and I print out crafts for them!"
Next up: Let's look at The Business of babysitting.