Preparing the babysitter for success
After choosing a babysitter for your child with learning or attention problems, you'll want to let her know about your child's strengths, challenges, and interests.
By Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.
Two theater tickets plus dinner reservations equals the perfect night out without the kids, right? Not quite — you need to add in a babysitter and that can make solving this equation tough. You can solve it, though, with some advanced planning and preparation. By making sure your babysitter understands your child's interests, strengths, and challenges, you can go out for an evening with fewer worries. It will be well worth the effort, because there are times when you want, or need, to go places with no kids in tow.
What to tell the babysitter
Arm the sitter with the tools and information she needs to be successful. Before the first babysitting session, set up an appointment to talk to her about any aspects of your child's learning or attention problem that are likely to affect her babysitting experience, such as:
- Social skills: Is your child very shy? Or is he likely to interrupt? How well does he share with peers or siblings? Does he recognize others' feelings and react appropriately?
- Memory: Can your child handle several instructions at once? Or does he do better if directions are given one at a time? ("It's time to put on your pajamas." Then, "Now please brush your teeth and wash your face.") Does he frequently forget where things are?
- Attention span: Does your child focus intently or flit from activity to activity?
- Energy level: Is your child high, medium, or low on the activity scale? Does he need constant supervision?
- Impulsiveness: Does your child think before acting or act before thinking?
- Language skills: Does a language-based learning disability affect your child's understanding of what the babysitter says? How might it influence the way your child communicates with the sitter?
Go beyond the bare facts about your child, and let the babysitter know about tricks and routines that keep the family running smoothly. Tell her about potential trouble spots and how to manage them. Use specific examples: "It can be hard for Andre to switch from playing to mealtime. It helps if you warn him fifteen minutes in advance and again when he has only five more minutes to play." Or "Jeremy sometimes gets overloaded when there's too much activity. He will calm down if you sit together to read his favorite book."
Consider also how the change in routine is likely to affect your child's behavior and discuss this with the sitter. Let her know about your child's particular behavioral cues and what they mean. "When Zack gets frustrated with a game, he shouts at the other players. That's a good time for everyone to take a short break." Also tell the babysitter about your specific discipline techniques, such as how long "time out" lasts and where it takes place, or which privileges may be restricted. And definitely inform her about any behavior reward systems you and your child have agreed on.
Allow some time during this meeting for the babysitter and your child to interact. Even if they met when you interviewed the sitter, another meeting helps put all the new information in context. Plus, the more familiar your child becomes with his new caregiver, the easier the transition will be.
Some other things the sitter needs to know:
- Medication dosage and schedule.
- Special communication tricks, such as signals or trigger words you use to get your child's attention.
- Specific details about what your child is allowed/not allowed to do.
A frank discussion about your child's learning disability or attention problem makes the sitter better prepared to care for your child. It gives you the opportunity to present your child's strong points and also sends the message that such difficulty is nothing to hide.