On a warm summer evening, 13-year-old India Nikotich was babysitting for two little boys, ages 5 and 7, when she discovered that she and her young charges had inadvertently locked themselves out of the house. Stranded in the back yard, with the boys’ parents not due home for at least two more hours, the young teen could have panicked, but she didn’t. Instead, she simply assisted the boys in climbing over the back-yard fence, and led them all safely to a neighbor’s home where she was able to phone the parents and get the location of a spare key.
“That was probably the scariest thing that has ever happened while I was babysitting, but I knew what to do,” recalls Nikotich, who credits the babysitter training course that she took through the American Red Cross for helping her remain level-headed.
“The course gave me confidence,” says Nikotich. “I know I can keep my cool and take care of things.”
Nikotich is just one of a new crop of mature teens – male and female – that are taking babysitting to the next level, treating it as more of a profession than just a way to earn a few extra bucks on the weekend. These sitters don’t just show up and hope for the best. They come prepared, armed with an arsenal of knowledge and skill sets that some parents don’t even possess.
Leaving your offspring in the care of another person is an anxious prospect for any parent. However, the knowledge that the person in charge has been through CPR or other safety training can help allay fears.
“As a parent, I would never let my teenage daughter watch my 3-year-old son without her knowing CPR,” says Troy Williams, co-owner of the CPR Training Institute.
A part of the American Safety Health Institute, the CPR Training Institute offers the Child and Babysitter Safety, CABS program for youth ages 11 through 15. CABS is a one-day course held two or three times per year. The program covers all the basics of child care including such issues as Shaken Baby Syndrome, questions to ask parents, and of course CPR for children and infants. At the end of the day, the participants take a written test and receive a card showing they have received formal training in CPR and first aid.
“Basic first aid care can make the difference between life and death,” says Williams. “I am very particular about my own children, and I prefer to leave them with someone with some level of training.”
Additionally, the American Red Cross course requires participants to pass a hands-on skill test on child and infant CPR. Upon completion, they receive a CPR certification card, a big plus to parents. “We had to practice on dummies,” recalls Nikotich. “It was very intense because you had to get every step correct.” Intense as it may be, having the CPR training and certification is a valuable skill in the world of babysitting.
“Knowledge is prevention,” says Barbara Baldwin of Safety Whys Childcare.
Baldwin, who began the Safety Whys course in 1989, is a former emergency nurse, and the program is coordinated with the San Antonio Emergency Nurses Association. The intensive one-day training course teaches children the importance of taking care of another human being.
“We had a 12-year-old student who, the day after taking our class, performed the Heimlich maneuver on a 3-year-old who was choking on a piece of candy,” she says. “That makes it all worth it.”
A good babysitter should not only be well versed in issues of safety, he or she should also be trained in how to have fun. That may sound like an obvious requirement, but you would be surprised how many babysitters never even engage with the children.
“We teach the students to get in the mindset of being there for the child,” says Baldwin. “They should not be on the Internet or using their cell phones.”
Waverly Jones, community education director at North East School District, says babysitter training is “one of the most vital classes” offered in that district’s community education program.
In the NESD program, “Babysitting: Your New Career,” participants make kits that they fill with activities and games. These kits are what they take along to a babysitting gig to facilitate sitter/child interaction. By showing up with this bag of tricks, the sitter proves to the parents that she is prepared, while showing the child that she knows how to have a good time.
Building a Business
Once a sitter has completed a training program, what is the next step? How does he or she go about securing jobs? One of the easiest and safest ways is word of mouth. Start with friends, neighbors and family and let the word spread from there. One thing the sitter should avoid doing is posting any information on a social networking site or hanging a flyer in the local supermarket.
“You should never put your name and number in a public place,” cautions Baldwin, who instructs the sitters on how to market themselves as part of her Safety Whys course.
Baldwin goes on to add that the sitter should present him or herself in a positive and professional manner. That means showing up nicely dressed, and with questions for the parents about the rules and routines of the household.
“The Red Cross training course taught me to present myself in a respectful way and be polite, courteous and kind,” says Nikotich, who says she also consulted her American Girl baby-sitting book for more ideas on how to look and act appropriately on the job. “All of the skills I learned are things that you can use in everyday life, not just babysitting,” concludes Nikotich.
Bonny Osterhage is a San Antonio freelance writer and the mother of two.
- AHISD Summer at the Heights Babysitting Course, 210-824-2483
- CPR Training Institute, 210-798-7988
- NESD “Babysitting: Your New Career,” 210-657-8866
- Safety Whys Child Care Training, 210-695-9838
- The American Red Cross, 210-224-5151