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Babysitting: Stay Focused and Stay Safe

It's hard to believe some of the trouble little kids can get into — and how quickly. For example, a toddler can grab a bottle of pills left sitting on a bedside table in just an instant.

The good news is that a responsible babysitter's watchful eye can go a long way toward keeping kids out of trouble.

Stay Focused on the Kids at All Times

It doesn't matter how short or how long your babysitting assignment is. As long as you're in charge of kids, your job is to focus on them and nothing else. Obviously, that doesn't mean you can't go to the bathroom! But, as a rule, you need to be with young kids every minute they are awake. (And if you do have to use the bathroom or step away for a second, make sure the kids are in a safe spot away from any trouble zones!)

Every kid is different. Some children are more responsible or mature than others. But, for safety's sake, you'll need to keep a constant eye on kids at least up to age 6indoors or out.

If you are babysitting preteens, you should still supervise their activities, especially on the Internet. It can be pretty tempting to leave kids in one room while you watch TV in another. But some kids can get into trouble pretty quickly.

Texting, Friends, and Other Social Stuff

You know not to text and drive because taking your eye off the road even for a second can cause a major accident. It's no different with babysitting.

As a babysitter, your job is to take care of the kids and help them enjoy the time you're with them. So avoid talking on the phone, texting, or chatting online while the kids are awake. Keeping an eye on the kids means you'll be less likely to need those emergency numbers the parents keep posted by the phone!

The "no texting, no calling" rule is especially important if you're giving kids a bath. Never leave a child unattended in the tub, even for a few seconds. Small children can drown in as little as an inch of water. If the phone rings or you receive a text message, don't answer it.

Once the kids are in bed, you will have more freedom to do what you want — within the parents' guidelines. Most parents will say it's fine to watch TV or movies, use the computer, or talk on your phone after kids are in bed as long as you are in earshot of the kids. (If you use their house phone, make sure you're not calling long distance.)

Some parents may say it's OK to have a friend come over after the kids are asleep. But always ask beforehand. If you don't and the parents come home early and find you hanging out with a friend or friends, they may not ask you to babysit again. Some parents might think you're too distracted by a friend to focus on the kids. Others may not like the thought of someone they don't know in the house. Just as you want to know what to expect before you babysit, so do they.

Even if a child is in bed, he or she may need you. It's a good idea to check on the kids every half hour or so. Avoid using headphones/earbuds or getting so involved in other activities that you miss a child's call or an unusual noise. Nightmares, a fall, belly pain — anything that wakes a kid and gets him or her out of bed is something you want to be there for.

At Night

It can seem strange to be in charge of an unfamiliar home at night. Help yourself feel more secure by locking windows and doors after the parents leave. Don't answer the door to strangers, including delivery people, and never tell telephone callers that you are alone.

If you hear an unusual noise or notice something strange going on outside, don't go out to check. If you're worried, call a neighbor or the police.

All this isn't meant to get you worried. Most babysitting jobs go smoothly and without incident.

After a night of successful babysitting, you'll have more than a heavier wallet and a good reference. You'll have the satisfaction of a job well done — and you'll have learned more about what's involved in taking care of kids!

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: February 2013