Every parent wants the best for their children. But that often leads adults to do so much for their kids that they forget to take care of themselves.
By taking care of yourself, including taking time for adult activities, you provide your child with a role model that has a good self-esteem and happy disposition. When parents decide to take time for themselves, the big question comes up, ``Who's going to watch the children?'' Choosing a baby sitter is often an uncomfortable task. Will my children be safe?
Lawrence Memorial Hospital offers the well-known ``SAFE SITTER'' Program, an international baby-sitting program for 11- to 13-year-olds. Along with educating baby sitters, this program has tips for parents when hiring a baby sitter.
Before you hire a baby sitter, think about how complex parenting really is. Then decide if the sitter you are hiring is old enough or mature enough to handle your children. Although some children begin baby-sitting at age 12 or 13, not all are ready to baby-sit alone. Hire the sitter to be a ``parent's helper.'' This means they would baby-sit for your children while you are at home, which allows a sitter to get experience with the comfort of having you there to help if needed. You will also feel more confident learning that the baby sitter can (or can't) handle your children.
The SAFE SITTER Program teaches young teens to begin baby-sitting for children who are 3 to 5 years old. After getting a year or two of experience, a sitter is then more prepared to take care of infants and toddlers, who can often be a challenge.
Along with age and experience, find out if the baby sitter has taken a first-aid, CPR or baby-sitter course. These types of programs are essential for parents as well as baby sitters. In Lawrence, these types of classes are available at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, American Red Cross, Lawrence Parks and Recreation, and Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical.
As the employer, you are responsible for preparing a new sitter for baby-sitting in your home. Allow time for orientation before the job, which can be up to half an hour. During this time, you can provide the sitter with a tour of the house, including any off-limit rooms, first-aid kit and emergency phone numbers. Be sure to
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cover any special instructions for each child, such as favorite toys, special items needed for bedtime, appropriate snacks/meals, and any medications.
With young baby sitters, it is best to plan the time so that they do not have to cook or give baths -- two potentially dangerous situations. If your children are age 3 or older, it is helpful to cover the house rules with both the children and baby sitter present. This prevents those ``My mom said ...'' manipulations after you leave. Never feel guilty about providing detailed instructions. Remember, these young baby sitters have never had children. So, things like operating the highchair may be difficult.
Keep in mind that young baby sitters may not have a knowledge of child development, which means they may not see a situation as potentially dangerous.
Be a good role model for the baby sitter. Be respectful of the sitter's time arrangements and return home at the scheduled time! If you are running late, give the sitter a call. Fifteen minutes is an appropriate leeway. Show concern for the sitter's safety. Do not make arrangements for deliveries while you are gone. Have an adult neighbor identified that the sitter could call if they need immediate help with a situation. Lock away any guns with the ammunition locked in a separate location. Don't drink alcohol if you are planning to drive the sitter home after the job.
What about the baby-sitting fee? The best advice is to agree on a fee with the sitter during the initial phone call. Don't wait until you have arrived home and encounter that awkward moment of ``What do you charge?'' Asking for money is an uncomfortable task for most young teens.
Baby-sitting fees range from $1 to $5, and up, depending on the complexity of the job (the number of children and expected responsibilities). With a young sitter, start at a fee that allows for ``raises'' to be given. Be respectful, and have the sitter's fee ready upon your arrival home.
Once you find that favorite baby sitter, there are several things you can do to encourage them to accept jobs with you. Make sure you don't ask the sitter to do more than they can handle. Not only does it increase the chance of an accident, it makes the job frustrating for the sitter. Remember the sitter has a life with lots of activities -- don't schedule him/her more than one time a week. Take time to recognize the sitter on her birthday or at holidays. When baby sitters feel valued, they are encouraged to continue doing a good job. You might consider sponsoring the sitter to take a baby-sitting course, like SAFE SITTER. Education will make both the sitter and employer more comfortable and confident.
-- Heidi Oberrieder is community education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.