Letting your older child take care of her siblings can be a really bonding experience for them – as long as you do it right and don’t take advantage…
Being trusted enough to babysit is a milestone moment for your oldest child – and it’s a chore that’s left to many teenagers who are left home alone in the couple of hours between school ending and Mum and Dad getting home in the evening. Unfortunately it’s all-too-easy for parents to take advantage without acknowledging the stress it can place on their children. If you’re planning to start your teen on family babysitting duties, follow these tips to make sure she’s up to challenge…
Does she have authority?
You know how your tween often pushes that envelope as hard as he can? You can deal with it because he knows you’re the boss and that you’ll enforce consequences if he takes it too far. Does he have the same respect for his older sibling? He might well be happy to sit and watch a DVD with her, but will he do what he’s told when it’s time to do his homework, shower and go to bed?
You don’t want a situation where your older child is having to use threats or force to get her sibling to co-operate.
Has she had a practice run?
Don’t drop your teenager in the deep end: ease her in gently by leaving her in charge for an hour or so while you run some quick errands. Alternately, let her and her little brother or sister walk the dog together and get a behaviour report from your teen when they get back home.
Is she familiar with the routine?
Any Mum and Dad going out for a meal will take the babysitter through their children’s routine: what happens when, and how. Don’t just assume your older child will be aware of every single step just because she lives I the same house as you! It’s likely she’s been glued to the TV every time you’ve been singing that special song that guarantees tantrum-free tooth brushing…
Does she know what’s required?
Make your expectations crystal clear to your older child: she needs to know exactly how she and her younger sibling are supposed to spend the time while you’re out, and what the limits are. For example, you might prefer she plays with him instead of letting him watch TV all evening; and you might rather she didn’t make phone calls to friends or lose herself in the Internet while she’s supposed to be watching him.
Can she cope with the emotional impact?
Although babysitting can help older children bond more closely with younger sibling they may not usually have much time for, caring for young children is tiring and stressful at times. Regularly being left in charge of several younger brothers and sisters for long periods of time can seriously damage the sibling relationship, especially if it means your older child is getting no time to complete homework assignments and socialise with her own friends.
Is she steady?
How would she cope in an emergency? Is she sensible enough not to panic if anything happens that puts her and her siblings at risk and does she know how to contact the emergency services or your doctor in case of any accidents? Would she know what to do if her little brother or sister swallowed a poisonous substance, or was choking? Is she familiar with your fire escape plan, and does she know where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them? Before you leave her alone with her siblings, role-play some emergency situations to ensure she knows what to do.
Does she know CPR?
It’s probably one of the first things you’d ask a sitter-for-hire before you entrusted your children to her care – but does your teenager know it, and does she have basic first aid skills?