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Tips for Babysitting a Child with Special Needs

You agreed to babysit a child with special needs……now what? Babysitting any child that you are unfamiliar with can be a challenge initially, but going into the situation prepared and knowing what to expect will make the experience a positive one for everyone involved.

Prior to babysitting a child with special needs:Tips for babysitting a child with special needs.

Do your homework: Learn as much as you can about the child and her disability. If she has a diagnosis that you are unfamiliar with, find as much information as you can.

Meet the child: If possible, meet the child prior to the babysitting day. Observe how the parents interact with her, and what she enjoys doing.  This is also a good opportunity for her to get familiar with you.

ASK QUESTIONS! You need to go into the situation feeling comfortable and prepared.

Some basic questions you should ask parent include before babysitting a child with special needs:

  • How does your child communicate?
  • Does your child have any medical needs?
  • Are there any safety concerns?
  • Does your child have any dietary restrictions or allergies?
  • Are there any behavioral issues? If so, how should they be addressed?
  • Does your child have any physical limitations?
  • Does your child take any medication? If so, have the parents demonstrate the proper way to administer the medication.
  • What is reinforcing to your child? What are some favorite toys and activities?

 Tips for babysitting a child with special needs:

  • If the parents follow a certain routine with the child, stick to that routine as much as possible.
  • Think of a variety of activities that you can do with her during your time with her to avoid boredom. If you are having trouble thinking of activities, ask the parents for ideas.
  • For transitions such as going from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity, use pre-transitional warnings (ex: you have 2 minutes left before it is time to clean up).
  • Keep your language simple, and give clear and concise directions.
  • Remain calm during challenging times. If she is getting upset or having a tantrum, and she see’s you becoming upset as well, her behavior is likely to escalate.
  • Have reasonable expectations. You don’t want to let children get away with not following through with demands, however, take into consideration any limitations she may have before placing the demand.
  • Follow the child’s lead. If she is having fun spinning in circle, spin in circles with her and then make a game out of it. If she prefers sitting quietly alone, do not push her to interact with you.
  • Most importantly, have fun!

For other tips on getting started with babysitting, click here to review our previous blog: A Beginning Babysitter’s Guide – Getting Started.

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a beginning babysitters guide-discipline basics

A Beginning Babysitter’s Guide – Discipline Basics

Discipline. Uh oh! Not the D word! Discipline is one of my least favorite parts of babysitting. It is not pleasant for you or the kid, but sometimes it is necessary. Luckily I’ve found some great ways to handle discipline and even prevent the need for it in many cases.  Hopefully these discipline basics will help you out.

 Discipline Basics for Babysitters-Prevention:

  • Prevention is key as you may have noticed from my other blogs, I am all about being proactive anda beginning babysitters guide-discipline basics prepared. Many people don’t realize how much they can do to prevent bad behavior and the need for discipline. Surprisingly there is actually a LOT you can do to help.
  • Energy – It’s a fact of life. Little kids have lots of energy…. And they need to let that energy out. Sometimes lazy or tired people try to force these kids to sit still and watch TV or play by themselves, but the kid just can’t seem to do it. Then they get in trouble, throw a fit, and continue to act up for hours on end! This can all be prevented.

Look for things they already have around their house to play with and get energy out. Maybe you’ll even hit the jackpot like I have with the  3-year old I batmansit right now (he’s “too old” to babysit, and he calls himself batman all the time – so yes, I batmansit). His parents bought him his own mini bounce house and put it in his basement play room. I love that thing! He gets to bounce his little butt off and let all of his energy out. I told them it was a present for me just as much as him! Yes, the kids you sit for most likely will not have their own private jump-jump, but look around and get creative. Start a game of Simon Says or Monkey See Monkey Do or better yet take them outside and let them run!

  • Attention – Many times kids act up as a plea for attention. Sometimes it can be difficult when sitting for a baby with an older sibling. The baby requires lots of time and attention, but the older sibling kind of gets the shaft. Get the older sibling involved in something you’re doing with the baby, talk to and play games with him while you hold the baby, and focus 100% on them once the baby goes to sleep. Just that little bit of attention can prevent meltdowns later.
  • Communicate – A lot of problems can be prevented if you communicate in advance with the kid about what is going to happen. If you let them know “we’re going to go to bed in about an hour” etc… it helps ease them into it.

I have another great example with my little “batman”– usually at bedtime he asks about his parents, and I remind him that “Mommy and Daddy will be here when you wake up.” He knows that to be true, but still likes a little extra re-assurance. However, we are about to have a big change. This weekend I will be watching him two days in a row with an overnight stay. This is a big step for him, so I’ve been slowly working him up to it. We’ve talked about it for the past 3 or 4 weeks, so he knows what is coming and has now accepted it. He’s even excited now about our upcoming “pajama party.” This little bit of communication has probably saved me a long day and night of tears!

What to Do When Prevention Does Not Work:

Although preparation is a life-saver, it is not going to prevent every problem. Sometimes, you will ultimately have to discipline your “little monster.” Here are the basics steps to effectively handle the task.

  1. Talk to their parents in advance – find out what the house rules are before the parents leave, and how they discipline bad behavior (This way you never have to guess at whether a kid’s statement about how “Mommy or Daddy always let me do this.” is true or not.)
  2. Give a warning – In a calm yet firm tone explain to them that if the behavior continues, he will receive “______” as a consequence.
  3. Stick to your guns – If you warn the child and he continues then you have to follow through or he will walk all over you forever – he now owns you! 😉
  4. Take a deep breath and don’t make it personal – Sometimes a kid can try your last nerve, and it can make you want to lose it. You should never take out your anger on a kid. Take a deep breath and administer the discipline with a clear head.
  5. Remove the problem source – If he abuses something he loses it. End of story. If he is hitting a sibling with something, or blasting the TV too loud, then simply take access to the item away and explain thathe can have it back when he begins to behave.
  6. Time out is a sitter’s best friend – Time outs are really the easiest method, and most parents will approve of this tactic. Calmly sit the child in a quiet area and tell him to stay there. Set a timer – a good rule of thumb is one minute for every year of the child’s age (2 minutes for 2 year old, 5 minutes for a 5 year old etc…) When the timer goes off, go over to the child, make eye contact, and calmly remind him why he was in a time out. then explain what you expect from him in the future, ask if he is ready to go play nicely. This might also be a good time for a hug.

There you have it! Hopefully, discipline doesn’t seem to be quite so scary now. Stay tuned for more upcoming blogs with more great tips and tricks of the babysitting trade trade!

For more information on getting started babysitting, click here.