Childcare doesn’t come cheap and the cost to hire a babysitter can add up over the years. It can therefore be tempting to turn to your own family and friends when you’re in need of an available (not to mention cheap) babysitter – whether this is a close relative, a neighbor or even your own eldest child.
Taking into account the legal advice on the appropriate age for a babysitter and the recommendations set by the American Red Cross, it would seem that 10 years old is too young to be eligible to babysit – especially for a child to be entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of a toddler.
Babysitters have a huge responsibility at any age and so many factors need to be considered before allowing a child as young as 10 to look after another human being – no matter how much trust and faith the parents may have. To help you make the right decision, we explore the legal info regarding young babysitters and what it really takes to be a responsible babysitter.
What does the Law Say?
Before we can answer the question as to whether a child as young as 10 years old is an appropriate age to babysit a toddler, it’s important to first ask yourself: “What age can my child be left home alone?” Parents should be aware that certain states have specific laws and guidelines about leaving children at home by themselves. Many well-meaning parents have been faced with accusations of child neglect as a result, so make sure you have all the facts before hastily appointing your child ‘babysitter’ for the night.
Currently, only two states carry laws about the specific age for a child to be left home alone: Illinois which states that a child must be at least 14 years old, and Maryland which states a child can be as young as 8 years old. Maryland is also the only state which specifically requires children to be at least 13 years old to work as a babysitter. The remaining states provide guidelines relating to child safety and babysitting.
If you’re unsure as to what the laws or guidelines may be where you live, be sure to consult this state-by-state list. We would also recommend that you check your state’s Department of Health and Welfare or your local Child and Family services to stay up to date with the laws and be the first to know when any rules change in relation to child protection. There are some states which have no guidelines at all regarding home alone age or babysitting advice. If this is the case, the next most relevant source of guidance can be found in the child neglect laws.
Important Things to Consider
Family attorneys at FindLaw.com have suggested that children between the ages of 8 and 10 years old “should NOT be left alone for more than one and a half hours and only during daylight and evening hours”. Your child may have proven themselves to be responsible after being left home alone a number of times, but parents still need to take many things into consideration before allowing them to babysit another child, starting with these questions:
- Has my 10 year old demonstrated maturity & responsibility?
- Does my child work well independently/with others?
- Can my child follow instructions and directions easily?
- How safe is our home/neighborhood? Does my child know what to do/who to contact in an emergency? etc
The gravity of responsibility on a babysitter’s shoulders cannot be underestimated. When a toddler is the one being babysat, far more safety measures are necessary than if a 10 year old were looking after a slightly younger sibling of 6 or 7 years. We’ll delve further into the needs of a toddler later on, but for now, the following should give you an overview of the factors that must be considered in deciding whether your child is mature enough to become a babysitter:
As the parent of the potential babysitter, ask yourself the following: Does my child know CPR, the Heimlich maneuver or basic first aid? The alarming fact is, many adults don’t know how to perform these basic safety measures. Would you leave your infant child in the hands of a babysitter who didn’t know these things?
The least you can expect from someone taking care of your young child – if only for an hour or so – is that they are able to recognize a dangerous or threatening situation when they spot one and most importantly, that they have the intelligence and quick-thinking to prevent it happening. If your child is serious about becoming a babysitter, there may do well to attend a ‘babysitting course’ to make sure they are ready (more on this below).
Duration of care
How long in terms of hours/minutes would your child be required to babysit for? You may have watched your 10 year old care well for other children under your supervision by playing well with their siblings and helping out, but how would they cope for long periods of time?
There is a big difference between leaving your 10 year old in charge of their toddler sibling while you are temporarily occupied on the phone and leaving them alone for an entire evening. Anything can happen in an hour, and if your child has had little experience with longer periods of care, then this will not fill the toddler’s parents with much confidence.
Specific care required
No two toddlers are the same – distracting them with their favorite TV show in the hopes of a peaceful babysitting session will not work for every child. You will need to consider the toddler’s specific needs and type of care depending on their health history, i.e. allergies, behavioral problems or conditions such as autism and Down’s syndrome.
If you have any hopes for your child to become a babysitter in their local area or even for a family friend, ensure that you have consulted the parents of the toddler about their every need for their child’s welfare and safety. Some of the responsibilities required may be beyond your child’s ability and maturity level, but this should not be taken to heart, as it will come with experience and age.
As the parent or guardian, you will be the best judge of your 10 year old’s maturity level. Have they shown themselves to have good judgment in the past? Have they followed the rules given to them? Have they been able to handle authority without taking advantage and abusing it?
How they behave with their fellow kids at school can also be a good indication of their maturity. If they have been known to help younger children or be the head of a group in a responsible manner, then this is certainly a good starting point to be considered for a babysitting role, but there are still many things your child may not be prepared for in the care of a toddler.
What are a Toddler’s Needs?
The toddler stage is dubbed ‘the terrible twos’ for a reason – a child is developing all sorts of new language and motor skills at this age and it makes them eager to constantly express themselves in a bid to assert their independence. Parents can find this exhausting and they are grown adults! So this is a lot to ask of a 10 year old child, even for just one hour.
Toddlers are impulsive, endlessly curious and have no concept of self-control. It can therefore be a mammoth task to keep a 2 or 3 year old in check. They are always in need of 3 basic things:
To be active – toddlers have vast amounts of energy and it’s important that they have an outlet for all this energy, so regular play with them and allowing them to run, climb and jump (safely) is healthy for their development. Telling them to stop or sit still too often can be stifling and make them cranky.
To have your attention – as fun as their toys may be, toddlers crave attention from others – whether it’s their parent, sibling or babysitter – and when they want to play, they need your full attention. Part of being a babysitter and learning how to care for kids in general is about learning to set aside chores or personal distractions (phones, tablets) and engage with them by offering your undivided attention and interest in their world for a few minutes.
To have free expression – toddlers will naturally try your patience with their boundless energy and noise, but it’s important to remember that they are little works in progress. And though you may become frustrated with them at times, toddlers need chances to try and fail at certain things instead of always hearing “No!” yelled at them
If your child cannot provide a toddler with these basic aspects of care, then they may not be a suitable candidate for babysitter.
Is Your Child Ready to be a Babysitter?
Your 10 year old may have some past experience with caring for their sibling or a neighbor’s child, but just because they may have made convenient babysitters to your friends and neighbors, it does not necessarily mean they are ready to become fully-fledged babysitters. Like everything else, many babysitting techniques and safety standards have to be taught, and if they want to continue babysitting as they grow older, they will need to be trained to deal with certain situations.
A great way to test your child’s suitability for babysitting is to enroll them in a Babysitting Course. These childcare training courses are run by the American Red Cross and can be done online or in person in a classroom setting in your local area. These courses are designed for children between 11 and 15 years old and aim to teach them everything they need to know about age-specific childcare from how to change diapers and feed to performing CPR and preventing asthma attacks.
If your child completes the babysitting course successfully, they will receive an official certificate of their babysitting skills with a unique ID code so that future employers can verify his or her qualification. Not only will this fill any babysitting clients with confidence in your child’s dedication and maturity, but having this certificate will also be impressive on your child’s adult resume to future employers.
What are some fun babysitting games?
- Treasure hunt – (great outdoors or indoors). Give each kid a list of items to find and the first to collect all of them could win candy/toy.
- Foot/hand painting – (best done outdoors)! All you need is a few sheets of craft paper, acryclic paints and a mixing bowl to dip their hands and feet in. You could even join in!
- Balloon volleyball – see how long each child can keep their balloon afloat in the air before it touches the ground. (Best played with kids 4 and older).
How can I make my teen more mature? Start by talking to your teen and listening without judgment. They may be ‘acting out’ in immature ways by making bad decisions or taking childish routes to get what they want, but by brainstorming with them, you can help them get a better grasp of their emotions and goals. It’s also helpful to not react negatively to identity changes such as their fashion trends since these will pass, but your critique of their ‘phases’ will stay with them.
What should I look for in a nanny?
- Enthusiasm – nannies work long hours, so they need enthusiasm for their job. Your kids will pick up on their fun energy too, so an enthusiastic nanny is a happier household.
- Great communicator – a nanny will be in your home spending more time with your family than their own, so they need to be open and honest with you.
- Nurturer – Someone who ‘gets’ your kid’s emotional needs and nurtures their budding personalities is the difference between an average nanny and a great one.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare