Sitters-to-be learned the ropes during 4-hour class at Butterfield
By Alison Rooney
Thinking of babysitting as a nice segue into working life for young teenagers? A way to make some easy money perhaps? Just turn up, play briefly, watch TV with the little kid, pack ‘em off to bed kind of thing? That approach couldn’t be more at odds with what instructor Denise Schirmer had to say to the 20 or so participants at the “Introduction to Babysitting” held recently at Butterfield Library.
Schirmer had so much serious information to impart to these 5th to 10th grade girls (no boys turned up this time, although the workshop is designed for both), that it took a full four hours of class time to get through the material and still fit in the test given at the end of the session. Schirmer has been conducting these workshops for 31 years now, and the emphasis is rigorously on safety, going well beyond the obvious to address varying scenarios, unlikely as they might be, and how babysitters need to prepare and perform should they take place.
The broad outline of a “star sitter,” provided by Schirmer, is a reasonably familiar one: be on time; always know something about the family you are sitting for; be prepared to handle all emergencies; get permission to use the phone, have snacks, visitors; stay with the children at all times; it’s your job, be responsible; the safety of the child is number one; take time to play with the child; emergency numbers must be written and near the phone.
It’s in the details that the finer points emerge. Covering topics as diverse as what to charge and how to discuss the fee, what activities to organize, how to handle messes made and the telephone ringing and how to best deal with a difficult toddler, the primary emphasis of the session was safety. Point by point, Schirmer went down a list of safety-related topics, going into the nitty gritty of why these things are important, and how to accomplish them. Advising the babysitters to bring a “babysitter’s bag” and notebook with them, Schirmer said for safety’s sake, a pre-sitting meeting should take place between the parents and the sitter. Knowing that parents might not think of suggesting this, Schirmer said that the sitters should request such a meeting, and go in prepared to ask questions about things that parents often don’t think of. For instance, sitters should ask to be taken on a tour of the house, noting where smoke detectors are, and eyeballing them, to see if they are blinking, meaning that they are in working order. Knowing where all telephones are, as well as band-aids and flashlights is important.
Questioning the sitters as she went along: “Should you be cooking for the child?” No. “What if the mom says ‘you can use the stove’ and requests it? Or a microwave? No — hamburgers can splatter and start a fire, bags of popcorn can let out steam which can burn you, Shirmer told them “It’s okay to say ‘My mom won’t let me.’” And what should be in the babysitter’s bag? The notebook, pens, a calendar, some special toy and something for the babysitter to do. Sitters were told to bring “all, some, but never none” of these items.
Speaking on behalf of the many parents who have come home late from a night out only to find they need to clean up after the babysitter, Schirmer instructed the group to clean up any mess made by the child while they are sitting. “No food-encrusted plates, no dirty clothes on the floor. Any new mess should be cleaned up.”
Schirmer advised the sitters to be wary of taking children outside. “Be careful. As a mother I never let a babysitter take kids out, unless it’s a fenced in yard. Be aware and consider pools, streams. You need to maintain control, especially with a child who is not a great listener.” There were pitfalls to watch out for indoors as well, “What do you do if the doorbell rings and it’s little Johnny from up the street asking if he can play with Frankie?” The sitters thought about this one and raised hands in reply, the answers ranging from “I wouldn’t be comfortable with that; if something happens, you wouldn’t want the responsibility” to “It’s hard to say no, but if I don’t really know the other kid, they could do something tricky.” Schirmer agreed with the hesitation, saying “I think you need to be careful. Maybe there are medical issues. Even if it’s pre-arranged, you need to know things. In my opinion, the correct answer is “Sorry, you need to go back home. When their parents come back, maybe you can come over then.”
Topics from how to answer the phone without betraying information that the parents were not home, to how to handle a situation where the doorbell rings were addressed, with Schirmer telling the sitters to always determine who is at the door without opening it, and “be 1,000 percent sure that person is safe. Don’t think, oh, it’s the UPS man, or a cop, or I think it’s that man who lives across the street — it could be someone faking it.” Even a situation where the child recognizes someone should be thought through: “Should the doorbell ring and a child look out the window, exclaiming, “Oh, it’s okay, it’s Uncle David,” don’t open up — maybe Uncle David is nuts!”
Instructions were given for calling an ambulance: “Call 911 first from the phone nearest the injured child; follow all instructions, then call the parents if they’re within a half hour, or an adult over 18 who is closer and then the parents.” Sitters were reminded to always be honest, telling the truth about anything that happened.
The latter portion of the class addressed common child accidents and injuries. Schirmer instructed the attendees to always obtain full information from the parents before sitting: child’s first and last name (she said it was common for sitters not to know the last name), date of birth, medical problems and the doctor’s name and phone. One by one, she went through falls, concussions, choking, burns and poisoning, giving instruction in dealing with any such crisis, one example being for a bump arising from a fall: “Don’t ignore it — it could be a clot. Take your palm and rub it to prevent clotting. Then put ice on it, but don’t put ice on it before rubbing.” The class also touched upon drowning, sprinklers and things pertinent to sitting for infants. Above all, Schirmer reminded the group that even with this class and any CPR or similar instruction they may have been given “just because you’ve taken classes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call 911 — always call 911 first.”
Finally, a review of what might seem obvious was given: how to play with a child. Participants were told to always remember the age of the child, keeping in mind that the younger they are, the more often their activities need to be varied. Receiving thumbs up were simple arts and crafts, especially coloring, imaginative play with dolls, action figures, trucks or situation, board games — but watch tiny pieces with toddlers — computer games and television within reason, music, homework helping and, most importantly, reading stories. At the end of the workshop, all participants took a 20-question quiz and they went over the answers. Each girl was issued a certificate.
Twelve-year-old twin sisters Hali and Cassie Traina both attended the workshop and found it worthwhile. Asked what was the most important thing they took out of it, Cassie replied, “Definitely the importance of having all the emergency numbers. It gave me a lot of information and now I’m going to feel more secure when I start babysitting.” Hali added “You have to really keep your eye on them every minute – even during things like when they’re going to the bathroom. Now I understand all the possibilities that can happen at that time. Most definitely I think I will be more cautious going into babysitting now, and I understand what I have to do.”
As this Babysitting Workshop was filled to capacity, with a waitlist, another session has been scheduled, for March 17, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. To register, visit the Butterfield Library calendar. The class is free of charge.
Photos by A.Rooney