PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Babysitting: Safety First!

Keeping their children and house safe is probably the most important thing parents ask a babysitter to do. That's a big DUH, right? But do you know how to be safe? Do you know how to prevent problems and emergencies, and then what to do if they come up?

Here's what some IML'ers told us:

"Once I was babysitting my two younger sisters when one of my sisters, who's three years old, got on her dresser and jumped off. She fell and scratched and bruised her back up really bad. I was really scared so I held her until my mom and dad got home and I checked to make sure she was breathing a lot."
--Andie, 11

"Once when I was babysitting my brother, he spilled hot water on himself and started crying a lot. I panicked but I managed to calm him down and put his hand under cold running water. I knew what to do because when I burn my hand, that's what my parents tell me to do!"
--Danielle, 12

"Once a brother and a sister were trying to do this dangerous stunt while yelling and screaming. It resulted in them play fighting on the floor. I got scared one of them was going to get hurt, but they wouldn't stop when I told them to. Eventually they did stop, and I told them how it was dangerous and they could get hurt."
--Miranda, 12

"The girl I was babysitting with threw up, so we kept her away from the other kids and figured out she only ate too much!"
--Lilliana, 13

Being safe involves a little preparation and a lot of common sense. Here's a rundown that will help:

Household Safety

  • Appliances. Stay away from all kitchen appliances like ovens and stoves unless the parents specifically ask you to cook a meal while they're gone. If they do ask you, make sure you know how to operate everything you'll need. For example, you might have an electric stove and oven in your home, while the house where you're babysitting has natural gas appliances.

  • Windows, doors, lights, and alarms. Make sure all windows and doors are closed and locked while you're in the house, and that outside lights are on. If the house has a security alarm, ask the parents to show you how to use it and what to do if it goes off. If you have to use a security code for the alarm, write it down and keep it in a safe place.

  • Smoke detectors. Know where the smoke detectors are, and how to re-set them if they go off accidentally. NEVER assume that a smoke alarm has gone off without a reason until you check the house for smoke or flames.

  • Outside the house. If you're allowed to take the kids outside, know what areas are off-limits or possibly dangerous. Check the yard or play equipment for sharp edges or other problems, and keep your eyes on kids at all times. Never, ever leave kids alone outside, by a pool, or by a spa. And, of course, never let kids play in the street!

The Child's Safety

  • Food. Be sure you know about any foods the child can't eat and any allergies he or she has. Pay close attention to children when they eat and be aware of the signs of choking. For very young kids, cut food into small bites and never let them run around while eating, because this can increase the risk of choking.

  • Water. Be aware of anything the child could drown in, from a backyard pool, to a tub or toilet, to something as small as a bucket of water. Never leave kids alone near water and make sure pool gates are closed.

  • Falls. Falling is a leading cause of kids getting hurt, so never let them climb on tables, chairs, counters, or ladders. Be aware of any sharp corners in the house and try not to let playing -- especially "roughhousing" -- get out of control.

  • Poisons and sharp objects. Make sure all cleaners and other poisons are stored where kids can't get to them. Never let kids play alone in the kitchen or garage (or anywhere else), and ask parents to install safety locks on cabinets if they don't already have them. Keep all knives and other sharp things out of reach or better yet, locked away.

  • Burns/scalds. Never let kids near hot stoves or ovens. Keep all pot and pan handles turned in so kids can't grab them. Check all water temperature before you wash or bathe a child. That's because hot water can burn in a second, and you want the water to be warm, not hot.

  • Choking. Did you know that young kids can choke on anything smaller than a grape? It's true! Never let kids play with toys that are not made for their age group. Check the floor for anything a child could pick up and choke on.

  • Strangulation. Never let young kids or babies play with string, rope, cords, ribbons, or anything they could get around their necks.

Remember: The best way to keep children safe is to watch them at all times! Never let kids play by themselves or wander away from where you can see them. Even if the kids are sleeping, it's a good idea to quietly check up on them every 20 minutes or so.

Your Own Safety

  • The door. Never answer the door unless the parents tell you to. Make sure to set up a password with the parents, so that if a neighbor must come in for something, they can tell you the password. If the parents expect any deliveries, make sure they tell you or arrange for the packages to be left outside the door.

  • The phone. Ask the parents about their phone-answering policy. Do they want you to pick up and take a message, or let it ring until voice mail or an answering machine picks up? If they have caller-ID, make sure you know the numbers they might call from, so you can pick up when they call you for something.

    Remember: NEVER tell a caller that you are in the house without a parent or that you're the babysitter. If you must take a message, just say something like, "I'm sorry, he can't come to the phone right now," instead of "He's not home and he'll call you back later."

  • Your parents. Make sure your own parents know what's going on! Tell them where you'll be, a phone number where you can be reached, and what time to expect you back. It also might be a good idea -- and help everyone feel better about the situation -- to have your parents meet the folks you're babysitting for.

  • Transportation. Plan a safe way to get from your house to the babysitting house, and back again. Don't expect a ride from the parents of the child, unless that's the way they like to do things. It's often best if your own parent can drop you off and pick you up.

  • Trust your gut. If anyone in the family you're working for says or does something that makes you feel uncomfortable or suspicious, get yourself safely out of the situation and go home (of course, this doesn't mean leaving children alone), or tell your own parents about it. If you see or hear anything unusual outside the house, call the police immediately.

Emergencies
Knowing what to do in emergencies will help you stay calm if anything unexpected or a little scary happens while you're babysitting.

  • Emergency numbers. Have all emergency numbers written down near the phone or programmed into the phone's speed dial list. Call for the police, fire department, or ambulance AS SOON AS something goes wrong. If you can't decide whether or not a situation is "serious" enough to call someone, call anyway! Chances are, nobody will criticize you for being too careful.

  • Emergency supplies. Know what the smoke detector and burglar alarm sound like. Know exactly where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it. Know where the family keeps the first aid kit in case of scrapes or minor cuts (if there is a serious injury, call the ambulance number or 9-1-1 right away).

  • Emergency escape routes. Know exactly how to get out of the house in case of a fire. Have alternative routes planned in case your path is blocked by smoke or flames.

A Great Idea: Learn CPR! Parents will feel better about leaving their kids with you, and you'll be better able to deal with emergencies, if you learn CPR from the Red Cross or another local group. CPR gives you the skills to help people in the event of things like drowning, choking, heart attack or many other accidents. A basic first aid course is also a good idea, and this knowledge may make you more in-demand as a babysitter! To get started, contact your local Red Cross.

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