Kid's Health

Being a responsible sitter means being prepared. It's very unlikely that you'll face an emergency. But knowing you're capable of handling problems allows you to relax and focus on the kids.

So before the parents leave, be sure you know these three things:

1. How to get in touch with the parents

Check that you have the right phone numbers and contact information at the start of every job. You may have been babysitting the same kids for ages, but what if a parent got a new mobile number and forgot to tell you?

It also helps to get a backup number, like the number of a restaurant the parents will be at, just in case their cell phone battery dies or there's no signal.

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2. Where to find medical information and supplies (and how to use them)

Ask parents to put together a file with information like health issues, allergies, prescription medications, etc. Or create a form of your own and fill in the blanks when you meet with the family. Ideally, you'll want to get this information in advance so you have time to go over it and know what to expect.

It's a good idea for parents of small kids to keep a first aid kit so items like alcohol wipes, Band-aids, and antibacterial cream are in the same place. Know where the first aid kit is, what's in there, and how to use it. If you use items from the kit, let the parents know so they can restock them.

You'll need to know which items from the first aid kit you can use on kids and which you can't. For example, even if a first aid kit is stocked with pain medications, it doesn't mean you should use them for kids. Always ask a parent what medicines you can give their child (different parents have different rules). And never give aspirin to a child.

If parents want you to give a child medicine, ask them to show you how. Always check the expiration date of the medicine before you give it. Some kids have allergies to foods and other things that can lead to reactions severe enough to require injectable epinephrine. Know where the family keeps the auto-injector and how to use it (it's really easy once you know how!).

3. How to keep kids safe

Kids love to explore, and they can get into trouble fast. In fact, accidents are one of the leading reasons children end up in a doctor's office or emergency room. That's why supervision is key. Never leave young kids unattended, especially around water, heaters, appliances, and other hazards. And keep the medications mentioned above well out of the reach of kids.

When you're babysitting, avoid distractions like going online, text messaging, etc. Kids need your full attention.

If parents want you to handle a task you haven't done before (like drive the kids someplace) ask them to go over all the steps. For example, when driving kids, you'll want to know which car seats they use and how to buckle them in properly. Ask the parents to do a demonstration of how to use their car seats correctly.

Know where the family keeps safety and emergency equipment, like fire extinguishers, flashlights, and batteries. Emergencies are about more than having the right equipment, though: You need to know what to do, including when and how to use things like fire extinguishers.

Check with your local hospital or community center to see if they offer CPR or other emergency training, or take a babysitting course. It can give you the confidence to handle all sorts of situations, from a power outage to an emergency.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: June 2010

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