Should Older Kids Babysit for their Siblings?

Posted by in No-Cry Discipline

What happens when an older sibling babysits for a younger one? Is it a good idea? If there is a wide age span between your children, you may be wondering if your older child would make a good babysitter. The decision to have one sibling babysit for another should never be based purely on the age of the children, or what is convenient for the parents. Rather, the decision should be based on how responsible the older child is, and on the relationship between the children. If the older child displays trustworthiness for homework, chores and personal responsibilities, and if the two children have a usually peaceful relationship, it’s safe to try out a babysitting situation.

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Start slowly when a sibling babysits

Have a few practice sessions when the older sibling babysits while you are still at home, in another room. Take advantage of the time to catch up on paperwork or write a letter, or read a good book. This practice session will give the kids a chance to feel things out, and you can keep an ear open to what’s going on.

Should there be payment?

It’s usually best to pay a child to babysit, even if it’s a token payment, or a non-cash payment of a desired item or privleges. When a child see this responsibility as a “job”  or a way to earn something he desires he may take it more seriously and without any feelings of resentment.

A child who is “hired” to babysit a sibling will often turn into a responsible “person in charge.” (What’s even more interesting is how quickly your child passes the responsibility back to you when you return home!)  Another benefit of paying the sibling-sitter is that it will prevent the child from resenting the time he must spend babysitting.

Set them up for success

Plan in advance for a successful babysitting situation. Rather than putting an older child arbitrarily “in charge,” take the time to develop specific rules. Decide, in advance, the rules about telephone use, TV watching, snacks, homework, use of the microwave/oven/toaster, visits from friends, how to answer the door and telephone, and other issues. Also include a method for handling disputes.

Understanding the responsibilities

If the babysitting is to be a regular event, such as every day after school, approach the arrangement as you would hiring any babysitter for the job. Meet with the older child in advance for a sit-down session. Get her feedback and input. Set rules and expectations. Provide a way for complaints to be handled in a respectful manner.

Help your older child understand that while the job is not optional, you are flexible. For example, if she has a special event you would be willing to hire a sitter to cover that afternoon. If possible, break up the routine with the younger child having a weekly play date or other extra-curricular so that your older child has a chance to do something other than babysit after school. Evaluate the situation from time to time to make sure everything is working out well.

Have regular check-ins established

Have a standard check-in time, when the children call you at work. If you can’t receive calls at work, have them check in with another adult. Keep a list of important phone numbers next to the telephone. Print the local emergency number (911 in the United States) right on the face of each telephone in the house. (Faced with a real emergency, many adults find it hard to remember this simple number.) Give both children emergency training. Many hospitals and schools offer a babysitters emergency training classes. The kids learn CPR and standard emergency procedures. I’d suggest having any of the kids old enough to understand the class attend, if possible. (Keep in mind that something could happen to the babysitter and a younger child would need to know how to get help.)

Remember to talk to the little one!

Let your little one know that the big sister or brother is in charge when you’re not home. The extent of this conversation will depend on the age of the younger child, but make sure that expectations are outlined in advance.

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These tips are from The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill 2007) by Elizabeth Pantley