PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Babysitting: House Rules

When you eat dinner or sleep over at a friend's house, whose rules do you have to follow? Your own family's? Or your friend's?

Your friend's, right? Of course! So it works the same way when you babysit at someone else's house-even a little more so, because this is a job situation. As you probably know from your experiences at friends' homes, every family has different ways of doing things. As a babysitter, you need to know these "different ways" for the family you're working for because you'll be taking the place of the parents while they're away.

Know the do's and don'ts
Ask the parents to list any strict house rules, so you know their "do's and don'ts." For instance:

  • TV policy. Are the kids allowed to watch TV? How much? What time must the TV go off? What channels or shows are off limits?

  • Fridge policy. Can the kids get a snack or drink if they want? Can you? Is there an "open fridge" policy or is the family stricter about food?

  • Off-limits areas. You should always stay out of rooms you don't need to be in, but parents may have specific areas of the house that they want you to keep away from, like an exercise room, media room, etc. There may also be rooms that you can go into but small kids can't, like the kitchen or garage.

  • Outside play. Some parents might allow you to take the kids for a walk or to a nearby playground as long as it's safe and light outside. Other parents may want you to keep the kids in the house at all times.

  • Energetic play. Some families are comfortable with their kids getting all loud, hyper, or excited when they play-running around and wrestling and stuff like that. Other parents expect their kids to be more controlled.

  • Talking back. Is a little sass or sarcasm okay, or is it something the parents clamp down on?

  • "Reporting" on the kids. Some parents will want you to tell them whether or not their kids misbehave, while others are fine as long as everyone's safe and sound when they get home. Ask the parents what kind of behavior you should look out for and tell them about, and what you can let slide. If you see a child do something harmful to himself or someone else, or do something dangerous or destructive, always tell the parents.

  • Discipline. How do the parents discipline the kids when they act up? Do the parents want you to hand out "punishments" within the rules they lay out, or do they just want you to let them know about the misbehavior when they get home? For example: a parent of one child might say, "If Ashley doesn't wash her face and hands after playing, don't let her have a snack." The parent of a different child might say, "If Tommy doesn't wash his face and hands after playing, let me know about it and I'll have a talk with him later."

Understand and respect cultural differences
Not all families believe in the same things or follow the same traditions. The people you babysit for may have a different religion, national origin, or ethnic background than you, and this could mean they have specific rules or habits when it comes to:

  • Food. People of some faiths don't eat pork, and others don't eat any meat at all. There may also be special rules about food during certain times of year or certain holidays. Ask about food rules and respect them while you're in the house.

  • Prayer or worship. The kids you're babysitting for may pray in a different way, or at a different time, than you do. Or maybe they pray, but you never have. The important thing is to let them do this without commenting on it. You don't have to join in, but never interrupt. It works the other way around, too: if prayer is a part of your life but not for the kids you're watching, try not to judge them or suggest they try it.

  • Clothes. Some families may dress differently than you because of their faith or their culture. Be aware of the difference and simply accept it as the way this family does things.

Remember: As a babysitter, it's not your place to question or comment on the traditions or beliefs of the family you're working for. Try not to tell children that their traditions are wrong or strange, or point out the differences between you and them in a way that could make them feel ashamed or left out. Look at experiences like this as a great chance to learn about different people's cultures and backgrounds!

Universal Rules
There are some babysitting rules that just "go without saying." Even if the parents don't mention them, you should follow these anyway:

  • No guests. Unless the parents specifically tell you that it's okay, you shouldn't have friends over to visit while you're on the job. Your focus must be on the kids, not on a guest!

  • No snooping. If you've been tempted to do this, don't feel bad -- it's natural to be curious about other people's lives. But as a babysitter, you must respect the privacy of the family you're working for. If it helps, put yourself in their place and imagine how it would feel to have someone nosing around your personal stuff!

  • No age-inappropriate activities. This means that you shouldn't watch movies, listen to music, or play video games that have content that's "too mature" for the kids you're babysitting. Also, it's not a good idea to read from books that might scare the children or make it hard for them to go to sleep. And as hard as it may be, watch your language! (Do you really want to be the person responsible for teaching a young child a bad word?)

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