Choosing the right babysitter for your child isn’t the easiest task in the world, and for the right reason. This person has to be loving and caring, nurturing, warm and cheerful. But also – alert, firm, assertive, autonomous, authentic and resourceful. On top of that- reliable, accountable and coachable.
Why do we need all this in one person? Because a part of the childcare game is also your child’s development, and these two should not be separated.
Taking care of children is a serious and demanding “project”, so you need to have some hard-wired skills to do it while also having great fun. Hmm, is there any better word? “Project”, “endeavor”, “enterprise”, “task” or a “job”, all sound very “businessey”, as if there are lists, deadlines, and targets in a sterile environment.
Far from it
Metaphorically speaking, you need to be as a big old tree- with deep roots to be stable enough to sustain the tempest, but inviting enough to be a safe place for a child to play on. Loving and huggable as well.
Don’t worry if you are still struggling to find the right person. Mind you, this is of paramount importance because your child will not just be SITTING with them- you can contact some agencies to help you consolidate your preferences.
For instance, professionals at the British/ UK governess agency always go an extra mile to analyze your family dynamics and offer the most fitting childcare.
Babysitters deal with little humans and their job is to experience the children’s journey of growing up-first-hand. With empathy and compassion. And a lot of boundaries.
Yet it’s not always fun and games. You need to be in a driver’s seat.
Go check a list of babysitter’s duties and responsibilities here and a babysitter’s self assessment tool here.
Different scenarios, different approach
What follows is what a day at work may look like, although it depends on the client’s parenting style, schedule, and specific requirements. In the first place, it depends on the child’s age.
Let’s say it’s a baby whose parents incline towards the attachment parenting. This means a babysitter is going to be in the baby’s vicinity a lot- carrying it in arms or a baby carrier (a sling or any other type), singing to it, making eye and tactile contact. The baby is cared for and soothed immediately, no cry-it-out or anything of the sort is allowed.
The babysitter is aware that the baby is not being manipulative or spoiled, and she (or he) reacts responsively and consistently. This takes a really warm and caring person.
When they are not tending to the baby’s core needs (feeding included), they are entertaining the baby by:
- reading books
- playing soft tunes
- making funny faces
- showing the baby the world around them
- talking, talking, talking
And changing a lot of diapers.
But if we talk about older kids, toddlers and preschoolers, here are some activities a babysitter may be doing in a course of a workday:
Every day is a fun day
Commonly, kids need a lot of movement and a variety of activities; it’s good to come prepared. Although boredom is healthy for kids, because it makes them activate their creativity and imagination, a babysitter should know a trick or two for various occasions.
Just consider another variable here- the kid’s temperament- some are restless little explorers who thrive outside while running free and climbing on swings and slides, others are loners who are happy to play by themselves, inclining toward quieter activities- such as puzzles, books, and building blocks.
It’s not that more active children won’t enjoy fishing wooden fish from a card-box tank, or that a naturally careful child won’t go on a slide- but- temperament plays a significant part and if you observe them carefully, you’ll know what type of activities suit them best.
Anyway, most of the time, you are:
- playing catch,
- sliding and swinging,
- park activities: collecting and throwing leaves, feathers, chestnuts, pebbles
- sailing a toy boat in a puddle or a lake (if there’s one)
- going to the zoo,
- visiting a local market
- or a library
If you are babysitting older kids, try this.
Good old indoor activities: building blocks and lego, drawing, and painting. But here’s the list of other ideas:
- Freeze the toys! Put e.g. the rubber bath toys in water, then freeze them. After a few hours, take the ice out and put it in a container and watch the kids smile and have the greatest fun ever. Older kids can try to break the ice with wooden hammers! Fun, fun, fun! For more similar activities, go here.
- Introduce a puppet friend with the real name to reduce the friction with everyday activities, such as toothbrushing, bathing, eating, putting on clothes, etc. They are not alone, Beepoo the Martian is doing it, as well! Who’s faster?
- Role-play! The whole world of chefs, doctors, construction workers, shopping assistants, teachers, even babysitters.
- Memory games- thematic or general- to practice vocabulary and exercise memory.
- Simon says! Simon says jump on one leg! Simon says sing! When you don’t say “Simon says”, the players don’t do the action. Whoever makes a mistake is out.
- Flashcards- there are a lot of games you can play with them, and here’s one: introduce the cards one by one. and place them on a table face up. Go through them several times then tell the kid to close their eyes. Remove one card. When he or she opens the eyes, they should be able to guess which one is missing.
- Textless, “spot-the-things” books. Stories that can be retold in gazillion ways.
On duty- tangibles and intangibles
“In babysitting, it’s a lot about sympathy and empathy and letting the kids know you’re there for them both physically and emotionally.”, said a UCLA student Montana Epps, a part-time babysitter.
In-between the fun and entertainment, a babysitter has a lot of duties. The more subtle ones are at the same time the more demanding ones.
Here’s the thing- changing diapers, preparing meals and feeding, first aid actions (are you are CPR-trained?), fever, runny nose, dressing the child or teaching them to do it, potty training, taking them to classes, playdates and hair appointments, clipping their nails- are all the activities quite a lot of people are able to do.
Far from being easy, but they are doable regardless of the personality type.
But bonding, boundaries, and discipline, dealing with tantrums, being objective- yet empathetic, not punishing the child while letting them feel the natural consequences, making quick decisions, and also being quick to come up with a reasonable “choice” to offer… isn’t something everyone is good at.
You have a real person in front of you that’s developing both psychically and psychologically – that’s a huge responsibility!
Here lies the answer to what type of person you are looking for- a responsible and organized individual, yes. But warm, responsive, loving individual, full of empathy, yet aware of the absolute need for healthy boundaries- that’s the one.
One of many things to be careful about – they need to learn to (self)regulate their emotions, but they also need to feel a sense of control. That’s why they will try to exert it: “I don’t want spinach, I want fries!!”. Is a babysitter allowed to say: “I’m sorry, today we’re having spinach. You’ll have fries some other day.”? Sure! This is boundary work. Give in once, you’ll have power struggles every day.
If your babysitter connects with the child easily, is resourceful and emotionally stable, can’t wait to get back to work, AND your child loves to spend time with her, she’s a keeper!
In a nutshell, a babysitter needs to be adept at connecting childcare with the child’s development. This is what a day at work is, regardless of working hours. You need to keep your inner child alive, and your adult alert.
As someone said: “Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.” In this case – someone.
AuthorBio: Anne Harris is an HR specialist working for londongoverness.com. She recruits nannies, governesses and other childcare professionals, ensuring top-notch services for parents worldwide. In her free time she likes reading about education, and children’s welfare, as well as visiting sports events.