How Old Is Old Enough For a Babysitter?

Dear Mamas,
How old is old enough for a babysitter? We have a great family nearby who has a very mature 10 year-old-daughter who loves kids. I have two children, one about to start kindergarten and a 14 month old baby. What do you think?

Hi Anna!

The thing you have to remember when choosing a babysitter is that she (or he) is the one who will be calling the shots if anything AT ALL happens while you are away. If one of the kids gets hurt, or gets suddenly sick, or wanders off, or eats something nasty from under the sink, or starts to choke on a piece of food, she’s the go-to-gal. She’s also the one who will have to take charge if some weirdo comes to the door or the dishwasher floods or a pipe bursts or there is an alien invasion. Well, that probably won’t happen, but you never know.

The bottom line is that you need to know she can handle an emergency, if necessary, and is old enough to do so without freaking out and becoming overwhelmed herself. So age really does matter. And the younger your children are, the older the babysitter should be.

This girl, although too young now, sounds like a jewel in the making, so why not start training her? You could have her come over and be a “mother’s helper” for you on a regular basis and she can watch you in action. She can feed the kids while you supervise, play games with them, change diapers and even put them to bed. Of course you will have to pay her (a percentage of the regular babysitter’s fee) but it will be well worth it.

You might also suggest to her, or her mom, that if she’s serious about babysitting she may like to take one of the babysitting classes offered by the local YMCA or Community Center. They teach CPR and basic child care skills. Then when she’s a few years older you’ll know that she understands how to handle things responsibly with the kids and you can go out with much less worry.

In the meantime, look for a babysitter who is older and has experience. Upper high-school or college age would be good. Ask friends with kids a little older than yours if they have a list of reliable teens or young adults who babysit. Since they’ve been in the market longer than you, they may have some good suggestions. You might even check with the pre-school teacher to see if she or another teacher or teacher’s aid sits.
Good Luck!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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