Parents have been babying me with questions about when their child is old enough to babysit. Let me take on the job of discussing babysitting and provide some more information on the topic.
There is no set age for a child to begin babysitting. But there are specific responsibilities and skills that any older child or teenager must demonstrate before they can babysit.
Here are a few things you must determine about your child or teen before they are given this important responsibility:
— Can they stay in control while handling younger children or infants who may be crying?
— Can they handle common and emergency household situations and feel comfortable alone at someone else’s house after dark?
— Can they listen well and follow instructions?
— Is your child actually interested in doing this? Or are they only agreeing to do it because you or another parent has suggested it?
If the answer to all these questions is yes, then it is OK to have your child begin babysitting. Before babysitting, they should enroll in an official babysitting course, often offered by schools, the YMCA or the Red Cross.
These classes usually include first-aid, home safety information and certification in CPR. With these skills, your child will know what to do to keep the children they are caring for safe. They will also know the numbers to call in case of an emergency, such as fire, police and poison control.
Let’s talk about some other basics. Your child should begin babysitting only one child, ideally a preschooler. Their first gig should be for an hour or two with an adult on the premises to help if necessary. At first, older children, and even teenagers, should not care for babies less than 6 months of age. It’s best to have a year or two of experience before considering babysitting for an infant younger than 6 months. And parents, be aware that a newborn under a month old is not appropriate for even an experienced teenage babysitter.
Remind your new babysitter that their focus should be on the child at all times — no reading or watching TV. Only when a child is in bed should a sitter feel they can read or watch TV. Even then, they should be checking on the child they are caring for every half hour or so.
No matter how experienced your child might be as a sitter, accepting jobs from strangers should be forbidden. They should only work at homes of people they know and where they feel comfortable.
Hopefully, tips like these will sit well with you and your teenager when it comes to being ready to babysit.
Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.