In some ways, babysitting older kids is a little easier than watching younger children. But they also come with their own unique challenges.
How do you babysit older kids? Older kids want to be treated with respect, but can sometimes still act immature. As a babysitter, you'll need to balance giving them independence while still being an authority figure. Pick age-appropriate activities they'll enjoy, and don't be afraid to enforce limits.
In this article, I'll teach you all about babysitting older kids. You'll learn some of the benefits of watching older kids, as well as some of the drawbacks. I'll share some great activities to consider, as well as how to maintain your authority with them.
Who Qualifies As An Older Kid?
For this sake of this article, I'll be defining older kids as those between approximately eight and twelve years of age.
You could argue that any school-aged kids count as older kids. Especially if you're comparing them to infants or toddlers. In that case, you might consider four or five-year-olds to be "older kids," since they're in kindergarten by that age.
But I feel that around age eight, kids start to really develop a sense of independence and a unique personality that isn't seen in kids of younger ages.
What age can you go from being babysat to becoming a babysitter yourself? Find out from my article Babysitting Age: When Can You Start? (Laws & Maturity Requirements).
Why Babysit Older Kids?
Babysitting older kids can be fun since you can talk to them and reason with them just like people your own age. Often they're interested in the same kinds of activities that you might enjoy doing, so babysitting activities can be more fun, instead of being crafts and toys that are aimed more at younger kids.
You can take active older kids on bike rides or hikes, play sports with them, or go swimming. For kids that are into learning, you can do some basic science experiments or build things together. They have more developed motor skills for things like cooking as well.
All around, older kids tend to be more low maintenance to watch. For example, you don't have to cut all of their food up into small pieces for them or worry about them choking as much. They can cut up their own food, and maybe even prepare simple meals themselves.
Perhaps the best part of watching older kids is that you won't have to change diapers!
Does Babysitting Older Kids Have Any Downsides?
Older kids tend to be more opinionated than younger kids. They'll tell you exactly what they like and what they don't like. They're also more likely to talk back to a babysitter, so maintaining your authority can be more challenging in some cases.
Some older kids might be great at keeping themselves entertained. Babysitting them in those cases can be a breeze. They can play and do their own thing while you catch up on homework, and may not require much work at all. You're basically just a grown-up figure there in place of their parents in case they need help, and so they don't feel scared or alone.
Other older kids might get bored easily and turn to destructive behaviors. So keeping them constantly busy might be even more challenging than watching younger kids. It can really depend on the specific child that you end up babysitting.
Secrets for Babysitting Older Kids
By the time you've read through this section, you'll know some things specific to babysitting older kids. That should help to make your job of watching them go more smoothly.
Don't Treat Them Like Babies
Some older kids might feel really self-conscious and embarrassed that their parents think they still need a babysitter. They might even be resentful about the fact. Particularly when they start to approach those tween years.
So try to give them extra respect and treat them like little adults, instead of as children. As a general rule, I like to assume that older kids will be mature and responsible unless they show otherwise. But don't be afraid to set limits either, and take away privileges if they're misbehaving. You probably heard the line growing up "if you want to be treated like an adult, then you have to act like an adult." A good babysitter can find that perfect balance between having them respect you, but still allowing them to feel independent.
Give Them Choices
Older kids don't like to be forced into doing one thing, just because you say so. Empower them by giving them a few age-appropriate games or activities to choose from for the evening.
Older kids usually tend to prefer things like video games or watching TV or movies, instead of activities like coloring that younger kids enjoy. Be sure to check with parents ahead of time to see what games, movies, and other media they're allowed to see.
Bump Up The Difficulty
Older kids might find it a bit insulting if you suggest that they color with crayons. But you can adapt lots of activities from younger kids to be more age-appropriate for older kids.
Instead of crayons, try some oil pastels, watercolor, or charcoal to draw or paint with instead. This will make them feel mature and like they're a real artist! However, don't assume that parents will already have these materials already in the house. You'll want to bring any special materials or activities that you want to do with them.
Similarly, cutting shapes out of construction paper or making macaroni art might not appeal to older kids, but things like making friendship bracelets or drawing and assembling their own comic book from scratch can.
One thing you'll want to keep the same regardless of age is the feedback that you give to kids. Older kids can be just as sensitive as younger kids and might not be able to take criticism well. So try to keep all of your comments positive and encouraging.
Let Them Explore
You can take older kids outside for walks as a bit of an adventure. Getting outdoors to see and experience new things can be really mentally engaging for them.
Unlike younger kids, they won't need to always be holding your hand. Although you'll still want to accompany them and keep them within your sight.
If you've got a pond or stream nearby, get everybody to put on their rubber boots and go for an adventure. Kids love to explore and look for tadpoles, frogs, bugs, little fish, and other types of life that these areas are normally teeming with. Just be sure nobody falls into the water!
Depending on the time of year or what your climate is like, you can go for a walk, go ice skating, or go swimming. If the weather is nice, you can put together a picnic and make a whole day of it. During the colder months, you can go to a museum where they can see all kinds of cool stuff while staying warm.
One major bonus to taking kids out of the house to do physical activities is that it'll be easier to get them to bed later if they're all tired out!
Teach A New Skill
Thanks to the internet, you and the kids you're babysitting can pick up most basic new skills in an afternoon. There is likely a how-to Youtube video on anything they want to learn.
Say the kids you're babysitting say they want to learn how to make a specific type of jewelry, how to make rice crispy squares, how to make a hammock out of a bedsheet, or any number of other things. As long as you have the necessary materials, just pull up a video and you can probably find a way to do whatever they happen to be interested in that day, without any preparation.
Usually, kids will go through fads and want to do things that they've seen their friends do, or that they saw on TV or online. So chances are there are already lots of tutorials out there for whatever it is.
Too Much Screen Time? Try A Board Game
Nowadays, older kids that you babysit might just be glued to their cell phone, tablet, or video game system.
How do you pry them away from their screens to take a break? Try a board game!
Most houses will have some of the classics like Monopoly, Snakes & Ladders, Trouble, and others. For more advanced kids, you might even try teaching them how to play chess.
If you enjoy playing board games yourself, you might have some more modern board games that you really enjoy that you could bring with you. Bring along one or two of your favorite age-appropriate titles.
Maintaining Authority With Older Kids
Are you worried that you won't be able to keep older kids under your control and following your instructions? Follow these tips to maximize your chances of being listened to.
Establish Boundaries With The Parents
You can't enforce the rules if you don't know what they are! So be sure to ask parents before they go. Otherwise, you might end up with a child trying to convince you that their parents allow them to eat ice cream before bed when that isn't really the case.
Cover all of the basics like what time you should serve dinner, and what they should have. Do they need to have a bath or shower? What time do they go to bed? How much screen time are they allowed to have?
There can be a lot of details, so it's good to have a notepad to write down specifics.
Set Strict Limits
Once parents have told you what the limits are, now it's up to you to enforce them.
Giving kids an extra five or ten minutes to stay up before bed or stay on the computer can become a slippery slope. So it's best to be firm with limits and enforce them as parents have instructed you.
If kids aren't cooperating, you might reward them for going along with the rules with something else later on. Maybe you can get them to eat some of their vegetables in exchange for getting to pick which TV show you'll watch later, for example.
Like with younger kids, you can also get older kids to follow instructions by turning basic chores into a game. See if they can get all of the dirty dishes from dinner put into the dishwasher in under five minutes, in exchange for dessert!
My article How to Babysit a Difficult Child (4 Steps to Success) is more geared toward younger kids, but many of those tips will also still apply here.
Don't Lose Your Cool
Some older kids may enjoy pushing your buttons and seeing if they can make you frustrated.
Try your best to keep your emotions hidden, even if you're getting upset and angry on the inside. If you panic or let your emotions show, it might be much harder to get the child to listen to you afterward.
Prepare For Lies
Kids can start to lie as young as three years old. But by the time they're older, some kids really have it down to an art, and might try to use their skills to manipulate their babysitters.
Stick to what parents told you in advance, and use your common sense. For example, kids might tell you that they're allowed to go play at their friend’s house without supervision. But parents likely wouldn't want that if they're paying you to babysit.
Just be firm and say no to any attempts to push boundaries by kids, no matter how they try to bend the rules. If you're ever unsure, it's best to default to no instead of yes.
Try not to take it personally if kids lie to you.
Be An Authority Figure
It can be tempting to treat kids that you're babysitting as a friend, instead of as someone that parents have left you in charge of. Especially if they're only a few years younger than you are.
But resist the urge to be their friend instead of an authority figure. Otherwise, it will be more difficult to get kids to follow directions.
This doesn't mean that you can't play games or engage in activities with the kids that you're babysitting. But they need to understand that ultimately whatever you say is how things are going to be. That's how their parents want it to be.
Treat Them As An Individual
Just like adults, kids are all individuals. They all have different temperaments, personalities, likes, dislikes, and things that make them tick.
Some kids are more active and outgoing, others are more introverted. Don't try to put all kids into one box.
As a babysitter, you really need to get to know kids you're watching on a personal level. That way you can tailor your communication style and babysitting strategies to what will work best for them.
Babysitting younger kids next time? Check out my article How to Babysit Preschoolers (Child Needs, Discipline & Common Mistakes).
Use Consistent Discipline
Don't make empty threats to older kids. Once they see that you make a threat but never follow through with it, that basically gives them free rein to do whatever they want.
If you tell kids that there will be consequences for their actions, always follow through so they'll take you seriously in the future.
For older kids, one effective discipline method is losing privileges. So if they're misbehaving, they may lose TV or tablet privileges for the next hour.
Even if kids are misbehaving, they'll still usually respond better to a positive tone than a negative one. Try to praise good behavior and focus on telling them what you'd like them to do in a positive way. As opposed to speaking in a negative way about things they're not doing right.
Giving older kids consistent praise for all of the things they're doing right can help reduce the chances that they'll want to start doing something bad.
Bond With Them
Establishing a connection with older kids that you babysit and having an open dialogue with them is important for maintaining your authority. Try to spend time doing activities with them like cooking, doing crafts, or playing a game.
You don't want to end up in a situation where the child sits and does their own thing, and rarely interacts with you. In that case, most likely you'll only speak with them to correct bad behavior, and you could come across as a nag instead of someone fun that they can enjoy spending time with.
Babysitting older kids comes with its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
On the one hand, you won't have to worry about them choking on hot dogs, or having to change their diapers.
But on the other hand, older kids are more prone to question authority and push boundaries. So if you aren't prepared to handle that, it can be a lot to handle.
Keep older kids engaged with age-appropriate activities that let them constructively express their independence. Even if you're upset on the inside because of their behavior, don't let them see that they're getting to you. And don't be guilted or tricked into letting older kids do things that their parents wouldn't want.
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