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When I Babysit, Do I Have to Spank Kids if Parents Ask Me to?

When I babysit, do I have to do everything the parents say? I do not support spanking at all! If the parents ask me to, do I have to spank a child?
- Ashanti*

First, congratulate yourself on being so thoughtful. This is a great question, and it shows you're the kind of babysitter lots of parents would love to have: You take your responsibility seriously, use your judgment, and really care!

Most of the time, babysitters need to follow a parent's rules. Rules help kids learn, and it's less confusing for children when rules stay the same no matter who is taking care of them. But spanking isn't a rule, it's a personal value. When it comes to spanking, it's OK to say no. In fact, it's never a good idea for a babysitter to spank a child.

If a child's parents ask you to do something you don't feel is right, be honest. Tell them you're not comfortable. Here are tips on having that conversation:

  • Make time to talk. Ask parents if you can arrive a few minutes early because you have something you'd like to discuss. That way you'll have their attention because they're not rushing to get out the door.
  • Be straightforward without criticizing. Say something like: "I know you've asked me to use spanking for discipline, but I don't feel comfortable doing that. Instead, I'd like to respond in other ways if [name of child] misbehaves."
  • Come prepared with ideas on what you'd do differently. Describe how you'd discipline kids, like using time-outs. If you've taken a babysitting class, you probably learned some techniques. Or, ask your own parents for suggestions.

How do you know when a parent's request is something you need to follow and when it's OK to say "no"? Use your own comfort level as a guide: Let's say parents ask you not to play videogames with their kids. Or maybe they tell you to limit things like TV watching or snacks. Even if you don't agree, you can still follow family rules like these because they don't make you anxious.

But if parents ask you to do something that goes against your beliefs or makes you worry (like watching so many kids you can't supervise them properly), it's a signal to say you're not comfortable with the situation.

It's a good idea for babysitters to talk to parents about expectations before they start sitting for a family. That way they can find out what kinds of disciplinary action the parents believe in ahead of time so there are no surprises.

And if you ever feel uncomfortable with what parents are asking, don't be afraid to turn down the job. Another one will come along.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD, and D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: April 2012

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.