#1 (510 words)
I Wish They’d Go to Sleep!
Bedtime can be a battleground for babysitters.
The kids may have been well behaved and reasonably easy to control all evening but as soon as bedtime is mentioned – chaos can ensue!
You need to establish why the suggestion of bedtime is creating such resistance. It may just be that they’ve had such a great evening with you that they don’t want it to end. In which case – good job! If this is the reason, a little bribery comes in handy.
Offering to read a bedtime story – and therefore to prolong the fun a little longer – can often get them into their pyjamas and into bed. Make the story as long as you can and read it in a quiet, soothing, fairly monotonous voice. We’re aiming to calm them down here – so forget interactive or over-stimulating stories.
‘Last one into bed is a …’
If more than one child is involved in the bedtime rebellion, it is tempting to try and turn it into a race, just to get the little darlings under the covers. But this can backfire. The last child into bed may be upset to be last and the first one in will get horribly overexcited.
A calmer way to achieve the same outcome is to offer to read a story once all the children are in their pyjamas with their teeth brushed. That way, they are more likely to encourage and help each other rather than fight to be the winner.
What’s the routine?
This is where doing your background preparation really pays off. Hopefully, you are babysitting for kids who do have a usual bedtime routine – which you will have previously asked Mom or Dad to explain, in detail.
If you look at it from the child’s point of view, they have already had a very different evening to their usual – so they are probably expecting bedtime to be different too. If you know their routine, well done! Now it’s just a case of following it and being fairly firm.
If there is no usual routine, which is becoming more common, it will be harder to convince them that it really is bedtime. Again, be gently firm and consistent until they realise they’re not going to win this one.
I want Mommy…
Bedtime is often the point when the child realises that Mom and Dad really are out for the night and they may become scared or tearful. Reassure them that Mom and Dad are just out having a nice time and they will be back very soon. Again, with smaller children, a little gentle bribery often works.
Help the child to imagine how proud Mom and Dad will be that they went to bed without a fuss and were so good and well behaved. You could make a simple star chart on a piece of paper and for each thing the child does well throughout the evening, put a sticky gold star on the page. The child gets to keep the chart to proudly show Mom and Dad.
#2 (539 words)
‘I Want Mommy…!’
If the child becomes inconsolable at Mom and Dad leaving for the evening, it can be very difficult to deal with and can be distressing for the child and the babysitter.
There are several factors to take into account here. The child could become upset before the parents leave, which could make it very difficult (and sometimes impossible) for them to go.
It may be the first time that the parents have used a babysitter and their own anxiety may be transmitted to the child. Again, this is where good groundwork can really help. If this is to be your first babysitting job for the family, ask if they have used sitters before…and how well it went. Just knowing that they have used sitters before is no help if the experience was a disaster!
If they are leaving the child for the first time, it’s important to try and make at least one visit to the family prior to the actual job. Get to know the child (and the parents) a little. Reassure the child that you’re going to have lots of fun together and that they will be safe and happy with you.
Work out a plan with the child of what you will do while Mom and Dad are out. They may have a favorite DVD that they would love to watch with you – or a favorite game to play. Having a structure to the impending experience will lessen the unknown for the child.
If the child is young, try taking a soft toy to them a few days before and ask them to look after it for you. This will make them feel important in the relationship with you and may help to lessen the natural feelings of abandonment.
Driven to distraction…
If a child is desperately upset, remind them of that DVD or game and tell them how much you have been looking forward to it. Try and get into the distraction as quickly as possible. The longer the child remains upset, the longer it will take for you to calm them down.
If nothing seems to be working, pretending to be upset yourself can often help. It sounds a little crazy but it works. Don’t overdo it – you don’t want to upset them more. Just a few quiet, gentle sniffs and sad eyes from you can often jerk the child out of their upset and into sheer curiosity. It also momentarily gives them the upper hand in the relationship and gives them back a little power that they lost when Mom and Dad went through the door.
Keep it going…
Once you have the child’s attention, keep it. Focus all of your attention on them and have the next diversion lined up ready to take over as soon as the first one has lost their interest.
Interactive games such as modelling with Play-Doh are great as they require the child to be thinking about something else other than Mom and Dad. Role playing with dolls, plastic monsters or stuffed toys is also a great distraction.
Dealing with a temporarily broken-hearted child can be very wearing and exhausting but ultimately extremely rewarding. Just remember, it’s mainly in the planning and groundwork.
#3 (391 words)
Some studies estimate that as many as 15% of children suffer from night terrors at one time or another. They can happen at any age but are most usual in children aged between two and six. In rarer cases, they can last up to adolescence.
Babysitters are more likely to encounter a child having night terrors than nightmares. This is because nightmares usually happen in the early hours of the morning, whereas night terrors most often occur during the first four hours of sleep – typically 15 minutes to one hour after the child falls asleep. The major triggers are being overtired and a change of routine.
Up to 18% of children who suffer from regular night terrors also sleepwalk, so it’s important to keep them safe. Put a safety gate at the top of the stairs and don’t have the child sleeping in a bunk bed.
If you know that the child is prone to night terrors, it can help to gently wake them for a moment, shortly after they have fallen asleep and then let them go straight back to sleep. If done each night, this is often enough to break the cycle and the child will sleep through the night.
Blood curdling screams…
Although it can be very alarming to witness a child’s night terrors, it may help to know that they very rarely recall anything about the experience.
In a classic night terror, the child will wake up ‘early’ in the night, sit ‘bolt upright’, have their eyes open and often scream in a terrified way. They will be inconsolable and may appear convinced that there are spiders, snakes, monsters or people in the room.
They may also be sweating and can hyperventilate. It may seem as if they are awake but they are most often still fast asleep.
The initial reaction for the onlooker is to wake them up out of their fear but waking a child from a night terror can make them more frightened and upset. It is better to put your arms gently but firmly around the child and lay them down, speaking quietly to them, all the time, until they settle down.
Classic night terrors can last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes and following the incident the child will most often go peacefully back to sleep…leaving you a nervous wreck!
#4 (684 words)
Before you go, can I just ask…
When you arrive at a babysitting job, the house may be calm with the children already in bed or it may be chaos!
Even if the kids are in bed, Mom will probably be in a hurry to finish getting herself ready to go out. She may have rushed home from work, fed and bathed the kids and got them into bed – no easy feat if they’re hyped up over the event. When you walk in, she won’t have the time (or energy) to spend ages telling you every important detail about the kids.
If the house is in uproar, it’s even less likely that you will get any really helpful information. You will need to pitch in immediately and take the pressure off Mom so that she can be ready in time to get out of the door!
This is where initial groundwork really pays off. When you are initially contacted for a babysitting job, make sure you ask all the right questions that will make everyone’s life easier on the night – especially yours!
If you baby-sit regularly and work for different families, it’s a good idea to write out a check sheet of questions. Make lots of copies of the sheet so that you can quickly pull one out and fill it in while you have the parent on the phone, or while you’re making a visit prior to the job.
What do I need to know?
Routine is a godsend for babysitters. You need to know if the kids have an evening and bedtime routine…and if they don’t! If there is no usual routine, your job will be more difficult. It helps to know this ahead of time so that you can work out what you’re going to do to keep them amused and how you’re going to get them into bed.
Will you be expected to feed the children and if so, what? Will Mom leave food or do you need to prepare it?
It’s worth having a question about toileting habits on your question sheet. For example, the child may usually be taken to the toilet a couple of hours after bedtime. This may be something that parents do so routinely that they may forget to tell you. This simple act can save a wet bed and the ensuing upset. It’s worth knowing where clean nightwear and sheets are kept!
Is the child on any regular medications, such as an asthma inhaler? If so, where are they kept and are the parents happy for you to administer them if necessary. If they are, make sure they show you how to use any form of medication correctly and safely so that you are all happy for this to happen.
Has the child been sat for before and was it a happy experience? If not, make a couple of short visits to get to know the child and parents.
What are the child’s usual sleep patterns? Do they sleep well or are they prone to night terrors or sleepwalking?
1. Make sure you have a cell phone number. If both parents have a cell phone, get both numbers.
2. You must know where the parents will be for the evening. If they are likely to change venues, i.e. from the movies to a restaurant, make sure you have the land line phone numbers of both places. Ask the parents to ring and let you know once they have arrived at a different venue.
3. Ask approximately what time they expect to be back.
4. Write down the address and telephone number of the home that you are in and keep it by the phone. In the extremely unlikely event of having to call 911, you will have the necessary information to hand.
5. It’s often helpful to ask the parents for the phone number of a helpful neighbour, just in case a situation arises in which you need help or support. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll need to call them, but it’s useful and comforting to know that you have backup close by.
#5 (654 words)
What to do if a Child gets Sick
If a child is really sick, hopefully the parents won’t be going out. If they still wish to and you don’t feel happy or confident about it, you would be within your rights to refuse to sit.
However, there are some ailments that can suddenly arise once the parents have left. Children can get sick with alarming speed and it’s a good idea to know how you would handle this – before it happens!
If a child or baby does suddenly become ill for whatever reason, you must contact the parents. It may be something initially fairly trivial like running a fever, but if the parents are aware, it gives them the option of deciding whether to return home or not.
It also covers you, as a sitter. If you don’t contact them and they return home to find their child sick, they may be angry that you didn’t make that call.
Children up to the age of five can suddenly run a fever for no apparent reason. It is a good idea to ask the parents whether the child is prone to doing this. They may have a stock of the medication that the child usually receives – or they may just open a window, take off the bedclothes and repeatedly sponge the child with a cloth wrung out in tepid water to lower the fever.
It’s important to get the temperature down as quickly as possible as some children can develop ‘febrile convulsions’ – a type of fit caused by high fever. If this happens, lay the child on their side and let the fit take its course, simply staying with the child until the fit is over to ensure their safety. It used to be common practice to put something, like a spoon or stick into the mouth during a fit but this is now considered unhelpful and possibly dangerous.
If the child is known to be prone to febrile convulsions, the parents will need to take them to see a Doctor the following day.
If they have never had a fit before or if you are worried, always call 911.
I Feel Sick…
Children are also prone to upset tummies. They will already be over-excited and may have over-indulged in food or drinks. They may become tearful, or very quiet, complain of feeling sick or that their tummy hurts.
If vomiting and / or diarrhoea occur, you will need to overcome any squeamishness, bathe the child and get them into fresh nightwear and possibly a clean bed.
Try and get the child to drink some water or soda to replace the lost fluid. Don’t give them a milky drink as this can trigger another attack or prolong a viral tummy bug. Once the child is comfortable and settled, you can deal with any soiled nightwear or bedding. It’s often easiest to initially put soiled bedding into the tub to soak prior to washing.
This is Freaking me Out!
These scenarios sound worrying but the chances are that none of these things will ever happen while you are babysitting. However, if you recognise that they might and you would rather be prepared, it can be lot less scary.
The general rule when kids get sick is to try and stay calm and deal with what you can. Most ailments will be fairly harmless and short-lived but can be alarming to deal with when you are alone and in charge. Don’t forget that you can always call your own home and ask your Mom and Dad for help or support.
The golden rules are:
Always call the parents.
If you feel out of your depth, call your Mom or Dad or a neighbour close to the family that you are sitting for.
If a child has collapsed, stopped breathing, had an accident or you are really worried about their health, call 911 first.