By Tina Marconi www.babysitters.net/blog
When parents are faced with the prospect of leaving their children in the care of a babysitter, one of the most worrisome aspects of the arrangement is the idea that a distracted sitter might inadvertently allow her charges to get into a dangerous situation. While there’s no surefire way to ensure that absolutely nothing will ever go wrong, there are a few steps that you can take, as a parent, to ensure the safety of your children while they’re under a sitters care. The first step to eliminating distractions is knowing what the most common ones are.
1. Cell Phones – In the 1990′s, cell phones were large, clunky objects that most teenagers were only aware of as a result of Saved By the Bell heartthrob Zack Morris. Times have since changed, and these days almost every teenager brings her tiny, powerful mobile device everywhere she goes. No longer restricted to simply chatting away as she keeps an eye on her charges, today’s sitter can update social networking accounts, check her email, and send text messages from your couch; because all of these actions require her to keep her eyes on the screen, there’s a lot she could potentially miss.
2. Television – While we’ve all been distracted from time to time by a television show, a babysitter whose childcare experience is likely to be limited to a few hours a week might let things get out of hand as she zones out in front of the tube. Though banning television altogether while your sitter is working might not be as effective in practice as it is in theory, it’s wise to have a discussion about both the distraction factor and the need to filter questionable, age-inappropriate content from your kids. A good sitter will understand your concerns, and will make every effort to adhere to your house rules.
3. Visitors – Most parents make a “no visitors” rule whenever they hire a babysitter. Unfortunately, this is one of the rules that almost always begs to be broken. If your kids are old enough to be verbal, the sitter may be tempted to wait until they’re in bed to invite a pal over; before her charges are old enough to tell on her, however, all bets are off. Let her know that the neighbors will be keeping an eye on the house in the interest of safety; it’s a great way of letting your sitter know that she’s being observed without accusing her of planning to have guests over before you’ve even left the house.
4. Homework – Teenage babysitters may have homework to attend to, especially if you’ve requested her services on a school night. Requesting that she wait until she’s put the kids to bed before she cracks open the books is one way of eliminating the potential for any distraction, but you should remember that her schoolwork is important. Calling your sitter on short notice will raise the odds of her having homework that can’t be ignored, so you should make every effort to make arrangements as early as possible.
5. Other Children – When you have more than one child, you should understand that your sitter will be forced to pay more attention to a younger or more rambunctious child than she would an older one with a calmer temperament. When a babysitter works for a large family, the thing that’s most likely to distract her from the group as a whole is one demanding child.
6. Meal Preparation – Leaving money for pizza or other delivery food is a time-honored tradition between parents and their babysitters, largely because providing a ready-made dinner dramatically reduces the likelihood of a child getting injured or in trouble because his sitter is focused on cooking; it also eliminates the risk of a kitchen fire stemming from a neglected stove when kids demand every ounce of a sitter’s attention. Some parents feel uneasy about allowing a delivery person to come to their home when there’s no real adult present; if this is the case, you should arrange for a pre-prepared dinner that requires minimal focus on your sitter’s part.
7. Pets – Anyone with pets knows that they can be just as demanding as the children in the house. A barking, energetic dog that paws at the door every five minutes is a distraction for your sitter, especially if she’s not familiar with your home, the animal’s temperament, or the routine that your children are accustomed to. Relegating your pooch to a fenced yard or a designated part of the house for the duration of a sitter’s shift can reduce the potential for pet-centric distractions.
8. Parents – It’s not altogether surprising that a babysitter’s employers can be her biggest distraction. Calling every five minutes to make sure that your kids are okay is understandable, especially if you’re leaving them in the care of a sitter for the first time or she’s never worked for your family before; still, talking on the phone and fielding your questions might take her attention away from your kids, leaving them with minimal supervision.
Life is unpredictable, so it just isn’t possible to foresee every situation that might arise to remove a babysitter’s focus away from your children. The most that any parent can do is make an effort to minimize the likelihood of the most common culprits rearing their heads, and ensure that any sitter they hire is mature, competent and reliable.
Tina, this is good advice for parents to consider when choosing a babysitter. Thanks very much, pb