Important lessons I’ve learned from years of babysitting

This Voices’ contributor gives some tips for keeping young kids occupied and engaged while looking after them

Written by Anonymous


Lots of us find ourselves working as a child-minder or babysitter at some point in our teens and twenties. It could be an occasional weekend gig with the family down the street, your full time career, or it could even be your ticket to seeing new parts of the world while you earn some money. Working with children can be one of life’s most rewarding ways of paying the bills. For one thing you’re literally looking after the future. Best of all, you’ll probably get to play with Legos and create new slime recipes!

So we know that it’s fun, and important, to be the best babysitter that you can. As true as this is, many people who works with kids – and even a lot of parents or guardians – agree that keeping them happy and occupied can be a real challenge. Kids love to throw themselves into different experiences, but for the most part, they like to move on fast. My mom would often remark that five minutes in grown up time is about one hour in kid time. I never really understood what she meant until I  started my very first babysitting job and ended up clearing up more half-finished, over ambitious craft projects then I could count. Or ended up finger painting alone at the kitchen table while my six year old charge sprinted off to claim her allotted Xbox time.

Fortunately, working with lots of kids of many ages has given me much more insight, into what I like to call ‘kid think.’ Here are a few of my favourite things to remember when sitter stress is beginning to creep up on me, or when I’m about to enter hour three of handling PlayStation related squabbles (jobs change, and the technology does too – but the ‘it’s my go’ fight never does).

Don’t reinvent the wheel

A lot of us come into our latest babysitting gig with a head bursting with kid friendly activities, but just relax. Every kid is different and every family has different rules and expectations. If the child you’re responsible for wants nothing more than to throw a football around for hours, or watch two Disney movies in a row, and that’s normal for them, then let them do what makes them happy. Like adult’s kids can fluctuate between days where they just want to chill, or have times where they’re unstoppable whirlwinds of activity – remember that within reason, and within the parents’ wishes, your job is to make sure that the kids you’re caring for are safe and happy, and having their best day possible; it might not be the day you imagined, but that’s okay.

Play – it’s a serious business

No one ever likes to feel like they’re being talked down to and kids are the same when it comes to play. It is, after all, their job. Learn how to ask questions and engage with the things they talk about, and do. It could be a pretend situation they have invented to make themselves laugh, the video game they’re playing, or the best game of hide and seek they’ve ever had. Whatever it is, it deserves the same interest and respect as grown up business. Getting kids to open up and share their interests, and their stories, can be tricky but in my experience it’s always rewarding. Don’t be afraid to just be yourself. It’s important to keep things kid friendly, but sometimes letting your natural sense of humour and fun shine can be all it takes. Kids have great intuition and they’ll respect that you for being you, and not just ‘the sitter’.

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty

It’s important for kids to learn how to keep themselves occupied and happy. They’re more than capable of beating the boredom blues all alone with a little imagination. Kids will concoct the kinds of imaginary scenarios and games that only kids can; or discover long forgotten toys and activities. However, a great babysitter is also there to entertain, and to help kids get the best play experiences possible. So next time you set up a painting activity for a kid, consider grabbing some paper and a brush yourself. Not only will this help you to build a great relationship and conversations, but offering a little helping hand means you have an opportunity to help kids build new skills; and get the confidence to challenge themselves more and more!

And finally, the (seemingly) infinite uses of food dye

It is important to say right off the bat that getting child sized washing up gloves, or wipe clean plastic craft gloves, would be advisable here. Other than it’s annoying ability to stick tight on human skin, food dye along with a few other household basics have often been my saviour, and caused an unexpected amount of giggles. I have a small shopping list, to be found in most kitchens– or on a supermarket treasure hunt with the kids.

  • All the different colours of food dye that you can get your hands on.
  • Flour – any white kind will do.
  • Vegetable oil.
  • Salt.
  • Shaving cream.
  • Glue.
  • Shampoo
  • Alka Seltzer
  • Empty large soda bottle

With this humble mix, myself and my latest very crafty charge have managed quite a few quick, but absorbing craft activities that have mostly all results something that can be played with afterwards. Flour, salt, dye and water can be transformed into play dough, or microwaveable 3D puffy paint depending on proportions. Oil, dye and water into your empty soda bottle will become an instant low tech lava lamp with the adding of an Alka-Seltzer. The rest, and anything else on this list, or anything else at all, can become slime. I’ve kept instructions vague because I promise you, that like the rest of babysitting, the joy is in the process and going with the flow – and not in getting everything perfect all the time.

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