Can my twelve-year-old baby-sit?

       Baby-sitting is an excellent activity for early adolescents who are mature enough to care for young children. Baby-sitters learn to be responsible, creative caregivers, and in return for their efforts, they earn money and feel the reward of doing a good job. With parental support, children as young as twelve can be successful sitters.

       A twelve-year-old generally does best with toddlers or older children. She may be overwhelmed by the tasks associated with a baby: changing diapers, warming a bottle, and dealing with crying. If a sitter is going to watch an infant, she should first spend time with the baby when his parents are home so she can practice caring for him.

       Twelve-year-old sitters often want to work in pairs. Although they have to split their earnings, they like the security of having a companion. Unfortunately, sitters are sometimes less responsible when friends are with them and may need extra guidance and supervision.

       Before your child baby-sits, talk to her about how young kids behave. She should know that they often act silly, enjoy attention, resist going to sleep, are fearful, have a hard time listening, cheat at board games, and can quickly get into trouble if left alone.

      Give her strategies for dealing with difficult behavior. She can try to distract a youngster, offer a snack, read a story, or pat the back of a child who can’t sleep. To keep young children busy, she can draw with them, watch a video, read a book to them, listen to music, build with blocks, dance, or make up a story.

      Safety is an important issue, both for your child and for the children she watches. To ensure her safety, check out any casual acquaintances or strangers who want to hire her. You can call them and chat, ask how they got your child’s name, and set up a time when you and she can meet them. When you do meet, try to evaluate their children’s behavior—you may not want your child to sit for difficult youngsters. Tell the parents what time you want her home and work out transportation arrangements. If you’re uncomfortable, don’t let her take the job.

      Talk to her about keeping babies and young children safe. Since many parents don’t give enough information to their sitters, you need to prepare her. Discuss possible emergencies and tell her which questions to ask. She should find out how to get in touch with the parents and with you. She should also know what to do if someone knocks at the door or calls for the family.

       Encourage her to ask her employers practical questions too. How late does the child stay up? Can he play outside? Does he go to the bathroom alone? Will he climb out of his crib? What can he eat? What can your child eat when she baby-sits? Can she use the phone? Does she have to clean up?

      As you may recall from your own days as a baby-sitter, any twelve-year-old can be irresponsible at times. Even if your child is well prepared and mature, she may finish all the brownies, break something, or fail to pay enough attention to a youngster. Keep giving her tips, talking to her about each job, and stressing importance of quality care. If you want to check on her while she works or simply reassures her, give her a call. She’ll feel more secure knowing you’re home and easily available.

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