First and foremost, your priority is to keep children in your care safe. Babysitters need to be prepared for anything and be constantly on the lookout for any potential threats to the child or children’s wellbeing. A St John’s Ambulance First Aid course is invaluable to babysitters and nannies; keep the St John’s First Aid app on your phone in case you need to consult it in case of injury or emergency.
Being a good babysitter has its own special skill set but having initiative and being pro-active will set you apart. It’s about pre-empting children’s needs, thinking on your feet, doing a little extra that could help out, even if you haven’t been asked to – especially if you haven’t been asked to. It will be noticed.
Always be polite, open and upfront with parents. Never be afraid to ask them questions or contact them, even if you are worried about disturbing them, or sounding silly or trivial. Always ask if the children are allowed to have friends over and ask for the names ahead of time. When they return, let them know of any concerns you have, such as if one of the children was upset or developed some kind of rash. Keep the channels of communication open as you are building a good relationship based on trust.
Keep a babysitting notebook (paper or digital) of details of each job even if you just work for one family. Write down all important numbers and any allergies the children may have. Also keep a record of children’s interests, foods they did or didn’t like, things you talked about, such as if they were having trouble with a friend at school, and games they enjoyed. Remembering these details about each child and job will really set you apart.
When babysitting, it’s your job to strictly uphold the schedule the parents have set, including meal times, naps and play. Children respond well to structure and routine. When you are new to them, children will test you and often try anything on: “yes, we are allowed to eat sweets,” “we always go to bed at 11pm.” Don’t fall for it! Stand your ground to set a firm precedent. Kids will quickly sense when a babysitter is a pushover.
Even though you have to set boundaries and reinforce rules with the children in your care, it’s important that the children also know that you are kind and gentle and are empathetic to their needs. It’s a balancing act that will come with experience.
A big part of being a great babysitter or nanny is understanding what kids will enjoy – get in touch with your ‘inner child’ and remember what you love to do as a kid. Blanket-and-chair forts, anyone? Kids love active – and interactive – adults who join their games and engage with them, so don’t be a couch potato or it’s unlikely you’ll be asked back.
Golden rule of modern babysitting: watch the kids, not your phone. Dangers lurk everywhere with kids, at home and out and about at the park: power points, stairs, roads, climbing equipment, choking hazards… the list is endless. Not only is checking your phone every few seconds very unprofessional, that time you’re texting a friend could be the same second a child is injured. Stay close to them at all times.
As much as you can with your own life and schedule, try to be as flexible as possible. If the parents need to leave early, show up early; if they are running a little late, reassure them that it is no problem. This will make you look reliable and super keen. At the same time, be clear about your limits. For example, it’s not acceptable for parents to take advantage of you by arriving home drunk at 4am when they said they’d be back by midnight and would drive you home.