I recently saw a conversation on Facebook about when is a good age for children to start babysitting. Most said around the age of 13. Some went so young as 10. I was a little surprised by some of the answers and how the people arrived at their decisions.
There was the camp that said throw them in at a certain age and let them sink or swim. Few took the stance that it depends.
I do not feel that there is a magical age where a person becomes ready to do anything, from potty training to babysitting to driving a car. Obviously, children should be able to do all of these at some point in their development, some milestones sooner than others, I’d hope. However, no child is automatically ready to assume responsibility without some carefully guided training. You take driver’s ed before you get your license. Perhaps a babysitting course is called for when you put a child in charge of younger children.
My 13 yod took a babysitting certification course through our local YMCA when she was 9. I had no intention of letting her babysit at 9, but it qualified her to assist in a toddler class while I exercised. I did feel she was mature enough to understand the material presented and to help with toddlers for an hour or so a few times a week. We have not taken that approach with our second daughter, who is now 10. She has a different personality and needs a little more room to grow before we turn her loose on the toddler world. She’s great with her own sisters, but patience isn’t her virtue.
We have developed our guidelines for babysitting.
- The 13 yod is in charge and cannot go to her room and close the door, as she is prone to do.
- She has to stay in the same area as the other children, particularly the toddlers who are just sneaky enough to use my absence to clear the contents from every cabinet within reach.
- At first there was no cooking while I was gone. Now that my 13 yod is a pretty capable cook, I allow her to cook a few things, like brown meat or boil pasta.
- If there is any argument while I am gone, I settle the score when I get home as I see fit. I don’t have to have all the details. I am right and pitty the child who has tried to pull a fast one.
While I’m gone, I let the children either watch a video, which mostly keeps their attention for a period of time, or I have a list of chores for them to accomplish. This keeps idle hands from finding devilish trouble.
We don’t try to abuse our built-in babysitter. While she would like to stay at home alone more, we have a buddy system in place. No one stays alone. I exercise at an on-site weight room for about 45 minutes several days a week. All the girls stay home during that time. If I need to be gone a little longer, to the grocery store, for example, I take at least one of the toddlers and sometimes one of the middle girls with me. This keeps the general mischeviousness dialed back a notch or two.
We have taken our time preparing our oldest to handle the responsibility of watching her younger sisters. I do not think I will let her babysit other young children at someone else’s house yet. There is no rush, and it is prudent to wait. Our 10 yod is maturing and can be mostly helpful, as well, but she probably will take a little longer to reach the age of responsibility.
All in all, maturity should be a factor when giving a child any responsibility. Just because you can trust a 5 year old to not set the house on fire does not mean you can automatically trust a 10 year old to be as careful. Common sense rules.