Is my child old enough to babysit?

Caring for their little brother or sister is often an older child’s first experience of babysitting – but how do you know they’re up to the job?

Being trusted enough to babysit is a milestone moment for your oldest child – but can also be a chore that falls to many teenagers who find themselves home alone babysitting for those 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 they're up to challenge.

Do they have authority?

You know how your tween often pushes that envelope as hard as they can? As a parent, you can deal with it because they know you’re the boss and that you’ll enforce consequences if it's taken too far. But does that tween have the same respect for their older sibling? They might well be happy to sit and watch a DVD, but will they do what they're told when it’s time for homework, shower and bed?

You don’t want a situation where your older child is having to use threats or force to get a sibling to co-operate.

Have you done a practice run?

Ease your teenager in gently by leaving them in charge for an hour or so while you run some errands. Alternatively, let your teenager and younger siblings walk the dog together or take a trip to the park, and get a behaviour report from your teen when they get back home.

Is your teenager 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 assume your older child will be aware of every single step just because they live in the same house as you. It’s likely they've been glued to the TV every time you’ve been upstairs singing that special bedtime song to a younger sibling.

Does your teenager know what’s required?

Make your expectations crystal clear to your older child: they need to know exactly how they and younger siblings are supposed to spend time while you’re out, and what the limits are. For example, you might prefer they play together instead of watching TV all evening; and you might rather your teenager doesn't make phone calls or go on the Internet while they're supposed to be babysitting.

Can your teenager cope with the emotional impact?

Although babysitting can help older children bond more closely with younger siblings, 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 their own friends.

Are they level-headed?

How would your teenager cope in an emergency? Are they sensible enough not to panic if anything happens that puts themselves and their siblings at risk? Do they know how to contact the emergency services or your doctor in case of an accident? Would they know what to do if a little brother or sister swallowed a poisonous substance, or was choking? Are they familiar with your fire escape plan, and do they know where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them? Before you leave a teenager alone with their siblings, role-play some emergency situations to ensure they know what to do.

Do they 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 do they have basic first aid skills?

Related links

Choosing a Child Carer: If you’re a parent planning to return to work or education, you’ll need to start thinking about childcare. The National Childminding Association offers Supernanny readers help with this important decision…

Finding a Safe Babysitter: All parents want to keep their kids safe and are naturally nervous whenever they have to leave them with a babysitter…

Find out more

St John Ambulance offers comprehensive first aid and resuscitation courses to 7-16 year olds.

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