Babysitting is a tough job. While babysitters often take classes in the basics of babysitting, many of these lessons are about fundamental safety issues and using good judgment to keep kids safe. Seldom do kids learn to establish their authority with younger kids, and how to maintain reasonable control.
I am not going to offer a full course in behavior management. However, I would like to give you a set of basic principals you can use with your babysitters which will help you to feel more comfortable and it will give them a sense of having more authority and influence in your home.
Dr. Cale’s Basics For Babysitters
1. Give them power in your presence. Make sure that you invite the babysitter
to come over and watch the kids while you are perhaps having a couple over for dinner or working on a project. Give the babysitter complete authority in front of the kids to set limits, perhaps serve them a meal, or perhaps send them to bed. Of course, the kids can come and say goodnight to you or speak with you, but every decision regarding what they can and can’t do is deferred to the babysitter.
Thus, the new babysitter arrives, the kids hear a message from you that states:
“Kids this is your new babysitter. She’s going to take care of things tonight. Your mom and I are going to be home late…so you go to bed on time.
We have some friends coming over for dinner, and we don’t want to be interrupted. Sarah will answer all questions, and put you to bed. You can certainly come and kiss us goodnight, but she will be making all the decisions for the evening…just like we weren’t here.”
Make sure this happens two or three times, as this gives you the opportunity to affirm the authority of the new babysitter.
2. The sitter is not to be their best friend. It doesn’t work that way.
Give the sitter a clear message: “You’re the parent-figure here…not their playmates.”
You don’t’ want the kids to get a confused message about babysitters. You want, more than anything, to make certain that the sitter is clearly in charge.
While, like a parent, they may play with your kids, that’s not their primary job. The more they fall in the role of wanting to always be liked by your kids, the more likely you are to find yourself in a situation where your kids have limited respect for them.
Again, I am not discouraging the babysitter from playing with the kids, I am discouraging the notion that the babysitter is there to exclusively entertain them. Kids that are too thrilled about their babysitter are likely calling the shots too much. I find the more the kids really love a babysitter, the more the sitter is willing to compromise what’s right in order to keep kids happy. While early on the consequences are often relatively insignificant, this becomes significantly more problematic as the years go by.
3. Make sure the babysitter understands that…”You teach critical limits with consequences…not your words.”
Hopefully you have been consuming the materials on my website, and have been reading these newsletters for a while. You understand the importance of using consequences to establish limits…rather than lectures, demands, repeated requests, or arguing with kids. If you fall into these habits, things deteriorate…and often fairly rapidly.
Instead, make sure that your babysitter understands the importance of consequences to get your point across. A few common examples would be: Kids playing too roughly with a toy…remove the toy
Lids refusing to cut off the TV before bedtime…turn off the TV rather than arguing with them
Sibling fighting too roughly and refusing to listen…time out, rather than another reminder
These are a few basic examples, but it will serve everyone to master these fundamentals.
4. The sitter must always remember…”Just ignore the small stuff…don’t keep getting sucked into the little stuff.”
When it comes to kids just bickering or complaining, ignore this. When it comes to kids being a bit ugly with the sitter, or with their siblings, just ignore it. When kids complain about how their dinner doesn’t taste like mom’s dinner. The sitter needs to ignore this.
For all the little stuff, make sure that they just walk away and give no energy to it.
The difference between #4 and #5 is that you want your sitter to understand that they are free to ignore all the little things. They don’t need to keep harping on the kids, and giving lots of energy and attention to negative behavior patterns.
Instead, you want them to understand, that there are places where they will need to set limits. When kids are out of control, or it’s time for bed, the sitter may need to take control of the environment. Any of these situations, I would want the babysitter to not try to control the kids, but instead to try to control the environment.
5. Finally, the sitter can develop a remarkably strong relationship in a short period of time by…investing small amounts of energy in pleasant, cooperative, happy moments.
What we are really asking for here is to have the babysitter become strategic in their behavior management. To be strategic in this situation, simply means that they are using their actions and words with careful attention to when and how they engage the kids. On this final point, you are really asking the babysitter to become vigilant for moments when the kids are smiling, getting along well, or being cooperative. During these moments, encourage the babysitter to give small, but frequent amounts of energy to these moments.
Touch on the head
Touch on the shoulder
A glass of juice
Another touch on the head
I am not encouraging the babysitter to gives lots of dramatic praise. If you’ve been exploring the terrific parenting principals in detail, you are aware of the importance about being cautious about these melodramatic moments of verbal praise, and focusing more on having more frequent but small moments of positive energy “catching your kids when they are doing it right.” This is what you want your babysitter to get.
During the first 6 to 12 sessions of babysitting, make sure that they are “hypervigilant” in catching these pleasant moments. Every time they notice a positive moment just smile…give a thumbs up…nod their head…just keep giving energy in these small doses to these healthy moments. This serves two functions.
First, this will give the babysitter of how they have power and influence that comes out of their relationship with your children.
Secondly, the relationship with the kids gets strong, and the kids will feel a sense of respect and closeness.
Well there you have it, Dr. Cale’s mini course in behavior management for babysitters.
As always, you’ll find more details on these ideas on my website at terrificparenting.com
As your babysitter begins to apply these principals, they will become proficient in managing their kids, and learn to do so with relative ease and little angst. You also give them remarkable tools for the future, which they can later apply in their own families.
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park-based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. His Web site, www.TerrificParenting.com, offers free parenting guidance and an e-mail newsletter.