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8 babysitting tips I learned the hard way (so you don’t have to)

Josie Powell
May 17, 2019
8 babysitting tips I learned the hard way (so you don’t have to)

I’ve been babysitting for several years now, and there have been many ups and downs. Sometimes situations come up that you never would think to prepare for, like losing the key to their house (oops!) or being bored out of your mind. Here are some babysitting tips I’ve learned the hard way.

1. Don’t lose the house key

If the parents of the kid you’re babysitting gives you a key to their house, keep that key in a very secure place. One time when I was babysitting two kids — an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old — we walked to the neighborhood park so they could play on the playground. I had put the key to their house in my front pocket and was checking repeatedly to make sure it was still there — until the time I checked and it wasn’t. Trying not to freak out, I started to glance around the wood chips and grass area to see if I could find it. Eventually I had to tell the kids that I couldn’t find the key.

Fortunately, we were able to find it sitting in the wood chips within a couple of minutes, but for a moment I thought I might have to call their parents and tell them I lost their house key. So, if you’re given a key, put it somewhere that you know is absolutely secure.

2. Show up early — but not too early

Especially if it’s your first time babysitting for someone, make sure to get there on time. Usually when parents ask you to babysit from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., for example, I found out pretty quickly that means they want to leave at 6 p.m., so make sure to arrive around 10 minutes early. That way, they can show you around and give you all of the safety information you need before they leave.

Of course, if the parent specifies that they want you there half an hour before they plan to leave, then arrive at the time they specify. If you’re worried about arriving too early, it never hurts to send a text asking if they’d like you to come 10 minutes early for instructions.

3. Follow the parents’ rules

Even when you don’t like or agree with them, the parents’ rules are the rules. If the parent says their child isn’t allowed to watch TV or eat a certain kind of food, you have to respect that. It may not be how you would raise a kid, but you aren’t actually raising that kid. You’re just keeping them safe while their parents are out.

I once babysat two kids whose parents said they had to be asleep by 9 p.m., but when it got to 9 p.m., they did not want to go to sleep. Since I knew their parents wouldn’t be home until really late, I let them stay up to watch one more movie, thinking they’d get sleepy before it was over. However, the action-packed movie only made them more wired, and at this point their routine was thrown off, so they were determined not to go to bed.

Ultimately, I was able to get them to sleep before their parents came home, but looking back, it would’ve been much easier to just enforce the rule the parents laid out to begin with. So even when it feels like the easiest solution to an issue is to turn on the TV or give them a cookie, resist breaking the parents’ rules, because they’re probably for the best.  

4. Double check with parents

If the kid you’re babysitting claims they’re allowed to do something (watch TV after a certain time, have two desserts … ) and you’re skeptical of how true their claims may be, send a quick text to the parents to double check. For example, one of my cousins whom I babysit has a tendency to, well, basically just lie to my face. It is a very common experience for him to tell me that yes, of course, he’s allowed to have three cookies and a popsicle for dessert — his mom said so!

Usually I can tell when he’s lying to me, because I know him and his family quite well, but if you’re not sure, just check. If the parents don’t get back to you, or if they told you beforehand that they wouldn’t be able to check their phone while they’re gone, then play it safe. Mention it to the parents when they get home so you know for next time.

5. Be as present as possible

It’s important to be present and engaged when you’re babysitting in order to keep the kid safe and entertained. Even when you’re so bored you could cry (it happens), resist the temptation to scroll through your phone for hours. I once babysat a 3-year-old who wanted to do nothing but build the same tower and knock it down over and over and over again, literally for hours. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were tears of boredom in my eyes. I tried to entertain myself by going on my phone, but the kid would get upset when I didn’t watch the tower fall for the 80th time. Even when it’s boring, being engaged is the safest thing to do — and it helps you bond, as well, which makes you more likely to be hired again. You should keep your phone on and nearby in case the parents need to contact you, but don’t keep your eyes glued to it.

6. Bring a book

Especially when you know you’ll be staying late, bring a book or some homework to work on after the kid goes to bed. Don’t plan on being able to get it all done, but if the kid goes to sleep and you still have hours until the parents come home, you can still be productive. I can’t count how many times I’ve forgotten to bring a book or homework and kicked myself for missing out on some quality homework time. Plus, if you’re worried about staying awake, being productive can keep you awake more than scrolling on your phone or watching TV. It’s important to stay awake the entire you’re babysitting, even if it gets late. I’ve never fallen asleep while babysitting, but I’ve definitely come a little too close when I’ve forgotten to bring something to keep myself busy.

7. Don’t panic

As the person in charge of someone’s safety and wellbeing, you cannot panic, ever. And you especially can’t show it. When I thought I lost that key in the park, I had to actively stop myself from panicking. I was obviously worried and instantly focused on finding it, but I knew that if I appeared panicked, it would freak out the kids I was babysitting (one of whom, in particular, tends to be a bit anxious). Kids can tell when you’re starting to panic, so you have to keep it calm and handle any situation thrown at you with a level head. This can be tricky and it honestly takes time to develop this ability, but it gets easier with every situation.

8. Every kid is different

You’re going to have a different relationship with every kid you babysit, and that’s OK. With some kids I babysit, I get excited to babysit because it feels like I’m just going to catch up with a friend! But there are other babysitting jobs that really feel like jobs, either because I don’t have a close bond with the kids or because they tend not to respect babysitters. It’s not always going to be perfect. As long as you’re prioritizing safety and doing your best to build a good relationship with the kid, you’re doing your job.

Read next: 11 things every first-time babysitter needs to know

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