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Q. My daughter is a responsible 13-year-old who's very comfortable around kids. In the past, she has babysat our neighbor's 4-year-old for short periods of time, but now other neighbors are starting to request her for evening jobs watching their kids ages 2 to 10. I'm not sure whether my daughter is old enough to handle a long night like this, especially with a 2-year-old. What are some signs that my daughter is ready to babysit? At her age, what's appropriate?
A. Babysitting is an experience that can help your teen earn money, plus learn responsibility and how to care for children. But while babysitting is good training for subsequent jobs, it should never be taken lightly.
When deciding whether your daughter is ready for full-time babysitting gigs, more important than her age is her maturity level, experience, and judgment. That said, ask yourself this: "Does my daughter know..."
If she's able to answer "yes" to these questions, or she shows a profound interest in learning the answers, consider what the job itself entails. For example, if a couple wants your daughter to babysit their toddler from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and the toddler predictably goes to bed at 8 o'clock, your daughter can probably handle it. But if another couple wants her to watch their three children ages 2, 7, and 10 from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Saturday while they go to a college football game and dinner, she should decline.
If both you and your daughter decide that babysitting is right for her, make sure she:
Takes a Class. Require her to take a course for up-and-coming babysitters; many hospitals and community organizations offer them. If no classes are offered in your town, your daughter can sign up for a class online. Check out the American Red Cross's Babysitter's Training Course or Babysittingclass.com.
The plus side of a live in-person class is that your daughter would have lots of interaction with other students. The benefits of an online class are that you can participate and sense just how much she's grasping, her level of interest in taking on the responsibility of babysitting, and if she's learning how to manage the business side of babysitting.
Tries Trial Runs. If your daughter has the opportunity to be a "mother's helper" before being on her own with young children, all the better. A mother's helper takes care of children when the mom is home, but is in her office working or outside in the garden planting vegetables.
Has Back-Up. When your daughter starts babysitting solo, plan to be home in case she can't cope. That way you can come to the house to help out until she builds up her confidence and child-caring skills.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com, and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, December 2004.