Whether you’re a parent who frequently has other kids around for playdates, a teen making some pocket money from babysitting occasionally, or someone with responsibility for kids in a community group, taking care of other people’s kids can be a tricky thing to get right.
I spent many Friday and Saturday evenings in my teens babysitting (yes, I didn’t have much social life) and currently work eight hours a week as a childminder. I’ve also taken care of kids on summer camps, at Church, and in other situations. Here are a few general guidelines on how to take care of other kids, making sure that you, they, and their parents are kept safe and happy.
If you’re taking care of other people’s kids, whether in a professional or a voluntary capacity, you should get references. For my work on the summer camps, and for my childminding work, I had to provide contact details for two people who could vouch that I was capable of looking after kids safely.
I’ve also had to go through a Criminal Records Check whenever I’ve taken on sole charge of kids—this is a procedure carried out by the Criminal Records Bureau in the UK to make sure that anyone taking charge of kids has never had a child-related criminal conviction in the past. Check your own nation’s policy on this, and get vetted if necessary.
This is important for parents’ peace of mind, and it’s often a legal requirement (depending on where you live).
Set Ground Rules
Check with parents or group coordinators about any ground rules that are in place. Whether you think these are too strict or too lenient, you should do your best to stick to them. It’s not fair on the parents, the other caregivers or the kids themselves to keep chopping and changing rules.
Ask about sanctions for inappropriate behavior. In a group or club situation, this might involve removing a child from an activity, or even temporarily or permanently suspending them from the group/club. If you’re taking care of kids in their own home or in yours, a “time out” is often an appropriate sanction.
Never, ever smack or spank someone else’s child. Even if parents have said that it’s okay to, the legal risks are simply not worth it.
Be Careful about Physical Contact
It’s obviously fine to hug your own kids, or kids who are related to you—but when it comes to taking care of other people’s kids, you need to be very cautious. If you’re helping at a camp or club, ask about rules: generally, it’s okay to let a child hug you if they initiate it, and if there are other adults in the room or in sight.
When a child is crying, most of us instinctively want to give them a hug. Never do this without the child’s invitation: ask “Would you like me to hug you?” and make sure they’re okay with it. This isn’t just important because it protects you from accidentally putting yourself at legal risk, it’s also very important for the child. If a child has been abused, a hug which you intend as a comforting gesture could be very frightening for them.
Let the Kids Lead
Unless you’re a school teacher, don’t try to force kids into doing something they don’t want to. If a child doesn’t want to join in an activity at the club, let them sit it out (offering gentle encouragement is fine, but don’t let them feel bullied). If you’re childminding, don’t tell the kids they’re not allowed to watch TV or play on the computer—unless that’s a ground rule set by their parents.
When feeding kids who aren’t your own, accept that their parents might have very different rules to yours. Don’t be strict about table manners, or about finishing vegetables before dessert. It’s far better that the children under your care are happy and eat something rather than they eat the most nutritionally-balanced meal on the planet.
Don’t Drink or Smoke
If you’re looking after a child or a group of children, don’t drink or smoke—at all. It’s much easier to have a blanket “no” on this than to allow yourself a glass of wine or a cigarette after the children are asleep or when you’re in another room. Alcohol impairs your judgment and your reaction times both of which are crucial in an emergency. Second-hand smoke is dangerous to children, and smoking where they can see you also sends a bad message.
By Ali Hale Dumb Little Man