Baby-sitting has been a favorite first job of teens for generations. Young people can learn valuable skills, gain self-confidence, earn some money and provide an important service for busy parents. But being entrusted with the care of younger children is also a huge responsibility. Ohio has no law regulating the age of baby sitters. The right age to start varies, depending on the sitter’s maturity level and the ages and needs of the children being watched.
Most baby-sitting classes are designed for kids from ages 11 to 15, and many people consider age 12 to be a good time to start baby-sitting in comparatively low-stress situations. A capable 12-year-old can do an awesome job entertaining preschoolers for several hours, but may not be ready to care for an infant for a whole evening.
Mandy Nagle, who coordinates Safe Sitter classes for University Hospitals in Cleveland, points out the importance of first evaluating your child’s overall readiness to baby-sit, then looking at each particular situation to ensure that your child is a good fit for that job.
“This means they are comfortable with the timing of the job, the number of children and the children’s ages,” she says.
The first requirement for overall readiness is interest and enthusiasm. Tweens who are drawn to younger children have often gained a bit of experience by age 12 in informal ways — watching siblings, helping neighbors or volunteering in the nursery at church. If your gut tells you that your child needs more experience, you can encourage them to reach out in any of those informal ways.
After interest, the next requirement is maturity. You know your own child better than anyone else. Do they demonstrate reliability and initiative with their own chores and homework? Have they spent time at home by themselves and been comfortable? Do they use common sense when faced with the unexpected? Your child needs to have the maturity to focus on others’ needs instead of their own while they are working, and they need to be assertive enough to be in charge, answer the door if need be and enforce household rules with younger children.
Nagle states that behavior issues are the most common challenge faced by the young sitters she’s trained. “A lot of children will push the rules, especially with new or young sitters, so making sure the parent tells the sitter the rules and the sitter follows them is very important.”
If you’re uneasy when you think about all the “what if” situations that might arise, talk through some emergency scenarios with your child. Preparation can help a baby-sitter think on their feet, make good decisions and stay calm in an emergency.
Classes are available to prepare young teens or tweens for baby-sitting. In Northeast Ohio, the Red Cross offers a one-day class designed for ages 11 and older. Safe Sitter classes, geared for kids who have completed at least fifth grade, are offered through some YMCAs and hospitals. Both cover child development, basic first aid, problem-solving and decision-making.
When your child is finally ready for that first sitting job, two important steps can help all go well. Clear communication with written guidelines and a baby-sitting bag prepared in advance can benefit everyone involved.
Baby sitters should understand parents’ guidelines for pay rates, starting and ending times for the job, household rules, expectations for meals, use of the computer and television, time spent outside, any pets in the household, bedtime rituals, potential discipline issues, and emergency phone numbers.
Nagle recommends that sitters bring a notebook to write down information. “We recommend sitters take as many notes as possible to ensure the children they are caring for are happy and well taken care of.”
Prepare in Advance
Your child also needs to know what is appropriate regarding social media.
“We remind them that it is a parent’s choice if a child’s picture is on the internet,” Nagle says. “We also talk about how everything on the internet stays there forever and people aren’t always who they say they are.”
A bag prepared in advance also can help a baby-sitting gig go smoothly. Simple items like bubble fluid and a wand, a coloring book and box of new crayons, or some of your own child’s favorite picture books can seem special to the children in their care.