Proper Babysitting Etiquette

Babysitting is a big responsibility and comes with its own rules. Follow Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips to keep both parents and kids happy.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #205

Proper Babysitting Etiquette

As a parent of a 4-year-old and a 2-week-old, I’m very involved in the world of babysitting. As well, growing up, I did my time in “the biz” too and enjoyed it. I loved hanging out with kids, listening to what they have to say, goofing off and building forts out of couch cushions. And now that I’m in the role of hiring babysitters, I’m very picky about who can watch my kids—and especially picky when the service comes with a hefty price tag!

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Regardless of if you are a babysitter at 12 or at 60, watching children is a huge responsibility and should be done properly on all fronts. From security, to eating, to entertaining, to everything in between, certain rules must be followed to make the experience as positive as possible (for both you, the kids, and their parents).

So before you microwave some popcorn, find a funny movie, and get ready to play every board game imaginable, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for proper babysitting etiquette:

Tip #1: Focus!

Babysitting is not something that you should take lightly. When you’re engaged in babysitting, the only thing on your mind should be the wellbeing of the child (or children) you are watching. One time I hired someone to watch my daughter while I was home—so we’ll call it “assisted babysitting”—and he spent most the time focused on his iPhone. Even though he stayed in the presence of my daughter, I was watching her closer than he was. At one point, I heard her ask to play a puzzle with him, he said he didn’t “feel like it.”

Really? Are you kidding me? I don’t care if my daughter wants you to dress up as Rapunzel and recite the entire movie, if I’m paying to babysit, your time is now my child’s time. So, I stepped in to see if there was a way to work out “Puzzle-Gate” and luckily, the 16-year-old finally agreed to do the project with my daughter, after I pointed out there was only 15 pieces. Seems like he needed encouragement for this epic task. It made me annoyed that the sitter would rather text or check his Facebook than do what I hired him to do.

When you are babysitting for someone—whether it’s for 5 minutes or 5 hours—you have to give your focus solely to the child at hand. Even if you don’t want to be there, just go along with it. Either you’re being paid or doing a favor, the main purpose is that someone has trusted you to make sure their child is safe, and you can’t do that while tweeting! When you ignore a child, they pick up on it and in this case, when I’m watching you ignore it, it’s doubly improper.

Bottom line: Put down the smartphone and pay attention!

Tip #2: Know the House Rules

When I was a teenager, I used to babysit for my neighbor’s kids. The first time I ever sat for them, their mom ran down the house rules, told me how to use the remote control, the VCR (yes VCR, folks) and gave me her number to call if I needed anything. After she left, I felt confident I had all the info I needed.

Then, after about 30 minutes of playing Nintendo, the kids asked if they could have an ice cream sundae. My first thought was “Of course! And make me one, too!” However, it hit me that maybe I was being played by these two little angels. I mean, I would have done the same thing when I was their age. As much as I didn’t want to bother the parents, I had to call and see if this was okay. I felt even sillier when the mom said, “Of course they can! It’s ice cream!” Even though I was embarrassed, I did the right thing. I had to ask. What if one of them was not supposed to have dairy? Or sugar? Or walnuts? Or chocolate sauce? You never know.

When it comes to what kids can and can’t eat, do, or even play with, it’s always best to ask the parents if you aren’t sure. Maybe the kids I was watching already had ice cream and anymore would have turned into a giant puke fest? Or maybe they knew it wasn’t allowed but wanted to try anyway? In any case, you have to know the rules. And you have to be comfortable to ask as many questions as possible. In the end, it’s your reputation and sense of responsibility that will be judged.

Tip #3: Have Fun!

I will never forget when I was 8 years old and my mom asked our teenaged neighbor to watch me one afternoon. The kid was a nice guy in general, but when he came over, all he did was sit on the couch, watch TV, and act like I wasn’t there. All I did was sit in front of him and play with Legos. Yes, Legos are fun but I was 8 and I thought having a babysitter meant it was like playdate for me. After all, every other babysitter I had walked in wanting to play whatever game I had, watch whatever movie I liked, and just hang out with me. All Mr. Boring wanted to do was just hang out on the couch and watch the boob tube. Very improper.

I know the goal of a babysitter is to keep kids fed and safe while the parents are away, but don’t forget to have fun when babysitting. Kids love being the center of attention and when you’re coming to babysit them, that’s what they’re getting. You’re not spoiling them, mind you, but your job as a babysitter is to entertain them. Do it safely and don’t set off fireworks (I had one babysitter who did that, too) but ask the kid what he/she wants to do and then do it. You have no idea how big of a smile you will get when you allow a child the choice to make decisions about their activities. Just ask Mighty Mommy.

Do you have a great story about an improper babysitter?

Post all the details in the comment section below. As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Check out my Modern Manners Guy Facebook page, follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT. And of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips.