Babysitting & Child Psychology
Learn how to tailor your babysitting strategies and activities to the age and development stage of the children in your care.
The relationship a babysitter has with children greatly impacts the quality of the time they spend together. If babysitters are intentional about how they connect with kids and structure that time deliberately they can maximize their value and make a bigger impact on their lives.
How can babysitters nurture children and bring out their best? Connection and respect are key to establishing and maintaining high-quality relationships with young people. Kids respond to the emotion you elicit from within them. By establishing yourself as a trusted and valued caretaker, you can lay the foundation to bring out their strengths over time.
It will take patience to develop the quality of relationship necessary for the child to believe that you know them well enough to truly help them. Each day that you are together is an opportunity to move closer and be a positive influence in their life.
The impression you first make on a child will matter more in the long run than the one you make on the parents. The kids are the ones you will be working with, and the tone that is set at the beginning will have an impact throughout the relationship.
Your first meeting with the kids may be when their parents are interviewing you, or it may be for a trial run to see if you are the right person for the job.
It’s OK if they are not outgoing at the beginning, give them the space they need. Forcing a child to connect with a stranger is never a good idea. You’ll have to earn a little trust before you have the chance to connect.
Imagine what it’s like for them to meet a stranger who might be taking care of them when their parents are gone. It’s understandable why they would not be eager to jump in.
Stay calm, and watch for signs that they are ready to engage. When they are, make sure you arrived prepared by talking to the parents ahead of time and learning about the activities they’re most interested in.
Remember, it’s not about the activity it’s about the initial connection.
See these 200 babysitter activities and entertainment ideas if you need other suggestions.
The parents are obviously going to know more about the child than anyone else. That makes them a great resource for you to use to get a step ahead in how you connect with their child.
Listen to what the parents have to say as you get to know each other. They may offer up valuable information about their child. If they do, you will be off to a good head start. If not, ask what you need to know.
Make sure you have the basics down before your first time caring for new children. Think about what your responsibilities will be, then ask related questions accordingly. If you will be responsible for feeding them then it will be helpful to know what they like and if they have any allergies.
If you will be putting them to bed at night you will need to know the smoothest way to get through that process so your first time caring for them isn’t full of challenges. See this article: How to get kids to bed when babysitting for our handy bedtime tips.
Importantly, you will also need to know about each individual child.
Each time you learn a little more about the child you get another piece of their puzzle. Then you can begin to put those pieces together.
Your dialogue with the parents will grow as you work more with their children.
Your ability to connect with the child will be the biggest factor in determining the long-term quality of your relationship with them. It’s not something that can ever be forced. It must be developed naturally.
Start by listening. Give the child a chance to tell you about themselves. Ask them what they like and what they don’t like. Figure out what they’re good at and give them opportunities to excel.
As you begin to acquire more pieces to their puzzle, start to put them together and show the child you have done so.
Learn the stages of child development to give you perspective on the child’s likes and needs at this time in their lives. Take time to understand the stages now to save you from learning through experience on the job. Equipped with this knowledge you can get out in front of your planning and develop a high-level vision for how to work with the child before you spend a significant amount of time with them.
Also, learn the stages of child cognitive development. This framework tells you about how children learn at different stages in their lives. Understanding this will help you frame your expectations for behavior, responsibilities, and play.
For example, you wouldn’t expect a 10-year-old to use what adults call “common sense” because they don’t have it yet. Understanding that and setting expectations accordingly can save you both a lot of grief.
Learn more about child development and how it relates to babysitting in our guide: Babysitters guide to child psychology.
Respect is key to any relationship. When working with children the level of respect that you expect will determine how they treat you in the long run. In the beginning, that can be done explicitly by telling the child how you expect them to treat you.
Over time, the way in which you communicate your expectations will become non-verbal and healthy boundaries should be established. Your presence and the way you carry yourself will have a lot to do with how you communicate your expectations to the child.
Lead by example and model the behavior you want to see. If the child falls short, gently let them know how you expect them to act.
Be patient and give them a chance to comply. If that doesn’t work, try changing their setting and determine if they become more responsive to your directive. They won’t always fulfill your request perfectly the first time, that’s normal. Your goal is to move them forward and make progress. You should seek to engage them in a positive way.
As you model the behavior you want to see you will begin to make connections between where the child is and where you want them to be.
Make a running list of goals for them. As the babysitter, you are not trying to change a whole lot. In fact, you may not need to change anything at all. But if you need to, you should know how to go about it while avoiding unnecessary conflict. If you don’t need to make changes (or don’t think it is your role), this list will still help you have a much better understanding of the child.
Look for small opportunities to come through for them. It may be something as simple as making a promise and keeping your word. Your goal is to prove that you are reliable and to show that you have been listening (to their words and actions) as they share more about themselves. Building trust is key to both connecting with the child and establishing mutual respect.
Children need expectations. They thrive off of meeting and exceeding the standards set for them by the adults in their lives.
Try to find opportunities where you can raise the bar for the child (and where you should without upsetting the parents) help the child become better in an area of their lives where they have opportunities for growth.
Responsibility nurtures the soul. If part of your job is to make sure they do their homework or chores before they are allowed to play, then make sure they get those things done.
Helping kids to do their job is not just about getting the task accomplished, it’s about giving them the opportunity to learn that their actions really make a difference. Help them see the difference around them when they care for their environment or handle their responsibilities. Over time they will develop pride in their contributions.
Your expectations for behavior should always be high and you want to make sure you are working for parents who support high expectations for their child. If they do not (or if they say they do but never follow through) you may want to consider how long you wish to work for them.
Every human brain has a negativity bias. That means parents, caregivers, and even children themselves spend more time focusing on the bad than the good. You will not change that completely, but you can redirect that attention in the child to help them learn more about their positive attributes. In doing so, you can build a stronger relationship with them, and help them build a stronger one with themselves.
To set the foundation to nurture the child’s strengths you should first talk to their parents to figure out what those strengths are. After you hear from them, spend some time making your own observations. Try to categorize your observations into four areas:
As you notice how they respond to the things around them you can begin to process that information along with what you were told by their parents to get a better idea of the big picture. Then, you can incorporate activities that build on their strengths.
Remember that your goal is to help them appreciate what they are good at and get a little better at it over time. You are not trying to make them the best at any one thing. You are trying to help them make steady progress while building up their belief in themselves.
Create a safe environment where they are comfortable being themselves and are willing to fail and you will be ahead of the game in setting the conditions for growth and long-term success.
Your success in nurturing children is heavily dependent on the foundation you lay and the conditions you set for their success.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the background before you should attempt to help children grow. Make sure you collect as much information from the parents as you can before you begin this process. Then, make your own observations following the steps above. Once you start working with the child, allow their behavior to inform your perspective so that you can be responsive to their needs.
If you are serious about helping the child grow and are dedicated to their success the child will sense it. Stay dedicated and you should see a positive response from the child over time.
Children experience the world through the relationships they have with those who care for them. These dynamics help shape the paradigm through which the child sees the world. Providing the child with a loving, safe, and stable environment is critical to ensure healthy psychological development.
There is a strong correlation between motivation and success. When children have been inspired they are more likely to pursue their interests with the motivation necessary to succeed. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are powerful tools to allow them to connect to their interests. As children spend more time making connections through stimuli that motivated them they are more likely over time to be naturally inspired to engage in that activity more frequently.
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