How to Babysit a Toddler

(28 Tips: Care, Activities & Discipline)

A toddler is a kid who is between 12 and 36 months old. The term comes from the word "toddle" which means walking unsteadily, which kids definitely do at this age!

Toddlers present a special challenge to babysitters. You've heard about the "terrible twos" before, right? It's a time of lots of social, cognitive, and emotional development in a child's life.

How do you babysit a toddler? Toddlers come with their own unique sets of challenges. Like infants, you'll need to watch them constantly. This is extra important for toddlers who are able to walk and get into a lot more trouble! If they aren't toilet trained yet, you'll also need to change their diapers when needed. In a nutshell, toddlers require constant attention and support.

In this article, I'll share important things to keep in mind when you're babysitting a toddler, as well as 28 tips to make your job a bit easier.

1. Understand Your Abilities And Limitations

Make sure that you're actually comfortable babysitting a toddler before you volunteer!

If you're brand new to babysitting, maybe you just aren't ready yet, and that's okay. Start off by babysitting some older children first to make sure that you won't be overwhelmed, and then you can start to consider babysitting infants and toddlers.

Ask parents specific questions about what they want and expect from a babysitter for their toddler. That way you can better understand if you'll actually be able to meet their needs or not and if you're a right fit for the family.

You should always be asking how many children a family has that you'll be watching and what their ages are. Watching one toddler presents different challenges compared to babysitting a toddler and an infant, or a toddler and a preschooler.

2. Make Sure You're Well Informed

Toddlers have special needs that are different from children of other age groups. Be aware of them so that you'll be able to keep the child that you're watching safe.

Learn about all the potential hazards to toddlers, as well as child-specific things that you'll need to be informed about such as allergies.

If you've never dealt with toddlers before, talk to other more experienced babysitters. Or take a babysitter training or child safety course to learn more about the needs of toddlers.

The Red Cross or your local community center likely offers programs on how to deal with children effectively. These classes are fairly inexpensive and can look impressive on your babysitter resume.

See our article on babysitter qualifications to learn if any are right for you.

After you're done reading this article, you should have a pretty good idea of some of the unique challenges that you could face while babysitting a toddler.

Also learn about physical and mental development in kids by reading our babysitters guide to child psychology.

3. Be Prepared For Anything

It's important that you have phone numbers like the parent's cell phones, other family members, poison control center, and the child's doctor on hand. They'll be critical in case of any kind of emergency.

You want to keep these numbers right next to the home phone if the family you're babysitting for has a landline, or store them in your contacts in your cell phone.

Learn what kinds of foods and toys can be choking hazards to toddlers, and just avoid them altogether. Taking a proactive approach can help eliminate most risks before they become an issue.

See our article: How to be a safe babysitter for more details.

Make sure to ask for a list of the toddler's allergies including foods, pets, seasonal, and other kinds. You never know what type of allergens you might encounter, especially if you're taking the kid out to the playground or park while you're babysitting.

Download our handy Parent details form and get mom or dad to fill it out before they leave, it's a great way to get all this information in one place.

4. Never Leave Toddlers Alone

Just like infants, toddlers are still too young to leave alone for any amount of time.

You need to keep an eye on them at all times and stay alert.

Don't leave them alone in another room for even a second. You never know when they might be about to fall down, bump their head on something, pull something off a table, open up something they aren't supposed to, or any number of other potentially dangerous actions.

If you have to leave the room, take the toddler with you. Even if you have to use the bathroom. The amount of mischief a toddler can get up to in the time it takes to go to the bathroom is shocking!

Keep any dangerous objects far out of the reach of a toddler to prevent them from getting ahold of it.

When you're outside of the home, keep toddlers close to you and keep your phone put away so that they've got your undivided attention. It only takes a second for a child to take a leap off the playground equipment that could break their leg!

5. Sing Them A Song

Just like younger babies, toddlers love when you sing them a song.

Ask parents before you leave about some of the favorite songs of the toddler that you'll be babysitting. Or just sing them a classic nursery rhyme that they're likely to know. If they're old enough, they might even be able to suggest one of their favorite songs themselves.

Toddlers love moving around and clapping to songs.

Wheels On The Bus, Old MacDonalds, The Hokey Pokey, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and similar are all tried and tested favorites for young children.

6. Play Sorting Games

Older toddlers (around 2 years old) can start to play sorting games.

Teach toddlers that you're babysitting how to sort their toys in a number of different ways.

Try sorting by different colors, sizes, kinds of toys, and other categories to really give that toddler's brain a workout!

You can get them to sort different colors of wooden blocks, or even sort their food during snack time.

Try out our list of over 200 kids games and activities and click the 'Toddler' filter to show toddler-friendly ideas only. You'll never run out of ideas again!

7. Give Them Lots Of Snacks

Speaking of snacks, toddlers need to eat a lot more frequently than adults do. So be sure to give them snacks between meal times if they ask for it or seem like they need it.

Parents should be expecting their kids will need to snack while they're gone, so talk to them about what kinds of foods they prefer their child to snack on. Pay special attention to any allergy information.

Some common snacks for toddlers include animal crackers or pieces of fruit. Be sure to watch them carefully while they're eating, and know how to get objects out of a child's mouth if they start to choke.

When preparing snacks for a toddler, you want to strike a specific balance when it comes to size. You don't want to cut their food so small that they can just swallow it down without trying to chew it a bit first. But you also don't want pieces so large that they might choke on them.

Toddlers will usually want some juice, milk, or water to go along with their snack too.

8. Have Open Communication With Parents

If parents need a babysitter, then you'd expect they're probably doing something important and don't necessarily want to be disturbed. However, having an open line of communication can help build up trust with parents. It shows that you care about the child and want to make sure they're healthy and safe.

Don't feel like you need to figure everything out on your own. You should feel comfortable reaching out to parents if you have any questions or concerns. Everything from having a toddler that is inconsolable and won't seem to calm down, to asking where they keep their extra baby wipes.

You don't want to be the annoying babysitter who is calling every ten minutes and interrupting whatever the parents are doing. But don't feel bad about needing to call at least once or twice during a babysitting shift. If nothing else, you can always just call to check in and let the parents know that everything is going well so far.

9. Go Over The Ground Rules Up Front

Speak with the parents in advance and try to learn as much about their rules and expectations as possible. Both what they expect from the child, and also from you.

Avoid undermining parents by breaking rules that they have, like not eating junk food before bed, or exceeding allowed screen time with TVs and tablets.

It's bad for the toddler, and it makes it harder for parents to continue reinforcing rules later on. Plus if a child is old enough to talk, they might tell mom or dad about it.

Kids at any age like to test limits to see what they can get away with. Don't believe them when they say "Mommy always lets me do it."

10. Regularly Check Their Diaper

The majority of toddlers under 2 years old won't be potty trained yet.

You'll want to check their diapers on a regular basis and change them right away if needed. Usually, a strong smell is a good indication.

For older toddlers who have recently become potty trained, you'll want to watch for signs that they might need to go and ask them regularly if they need to use the bathroom.

It's better to ask too often than to wait for kids to let you know that they need to go themselves. If you wait too long, you might not be able to get them to the toilet in time and will be left with a mess that you'll have to clean up.

11. Read A Book To Them

Most small children love to have books read to them. It can even be a good way to calm down very active toddlers and get a bit of a break from chasing them around.

Cuddle up on the couch or floor with the toddler along with a blanket and their favorite stuffed animal and read with them.

Anything by Dr. Seuss or with pictures of animals is a great choice. If they've got a book with animals in it, get them to point out different animals to you and ask them what noise each animal makes.

See our recommended books for babysitters for more book ideas including follow-on activities that kids love.

12. Bring A First Aid Kit

Parents will likely have their own supplies, but it's a good idea to have your own First Aid kit on hand just so that you know where it is and you can quickly get ahold of what you need.

It's a good idea to cover your First Aid kit with stickers and bright colors to make it look more fun. And be sure to stock up on colorful band-aids featuring cartoon characters if you know you'll be watching younger children.

Younger kids will often look to you for a reaction first when something bad happens before they decide how to react themselves. So if a child has a fall and gets cut or scraped, don't make a big deal about it. Just say something like "uh oh!" and smile and they'll likely laugh it off instead of bursting into tears over it. Then you can just quickly get them a band-aid and they'll be ready to start playing again.

Don't forget other important things to bring, read our article: What should I bring to a babysitting job and make a list.

13. Try Some Counting Games

Kids around 2 or 3 years old might be able to count to 10 from memory, but most still don't quite have a handle on counting numbers of random objects.

But if the toddler you're watching seems interested in numbers, you can try counting toys and other objects up to 5 or 6 or even 10.

Split piles of toys into groups of two or three to give lots of clear examples of different numbers.

Ask them to give it a try and count as best they can, but don't make a big deal about mistakes or if their numbers are mixed up. Toddlers are still developing and don't usually have a full grasp on numbers yet.

14. Get Some Exercise And Fresh Air

If the weather is nice, load the toddler you're babysitting up in a stroller and go for a walk to get some exercise.

You can make it engaging by making a game out of safely crossing the street. Even at a young age, it's good to start enforcing the idea of checking both ways before you cross the road.

You can point out different interesting things along the road or sidewalk during your adventure.

If they're able to walk, you can hold hands with a toddler and take them on a brief stroll. But they usually can't go much further than to the end of the road and back.

You can also have them run around and burn off extra energy outside, although you should be careful with this. If you're doing it before bed, you'll need to let them spend an extended period running around and get all their energy out.

If you only briefly let them run around, it might actually make them more hyper and then you'll have trouble getting them to sleep.

15. Let Them Be Creative

You can bring out a toddler's artistic side with some crayons and blank paper.

Ask them to draw all kinds of things like their pet dog, their mom or dad, or their favorite toy. Or ask them what other kinds of things they enjoy drawing.

You can also let kids play with blocks to build up towers and knock them down.

Toddlers can even do some basic crafts, as long as they're age appropriate.

See our recommended craft ideas for kids if you need inspiration.

16. Be Careful With What You Say

Toddlers are at an age where they're starting to pick up a lot of words, and you never know what they might repeat back to their parents later.

Don't call toddlers that you babysit a brat or any other negative words. Most families also try to tone down more rude sounding words as well. For example, try saying "silly" instead of "stupid."

While kids should have an open dialogue regarding bathroom activities, especially while they're potty training, avoid letting them get away with bathroom talk like calling someone a "poo poo head."

16. Have Fun And Be Active

Parents aren't paying you to just sit their toddler in front of a TV or tablet the entire time they're gone!

A good babysitter has lots of engaging activities to do with toddlers they're babysitting.

Figure out which electronics and games are off-limits, and if the child is allowed to go to the playground. Along with what their favorite toys or games are. Once you eliminate what the toddler can't do, planning which activities are best will be easier.

You can go outside and look at bugs or play in the sandbox. Or if the weather outside is bad, you can stay inside and make a pillow fort.

If the toddler you're watching has a disability, then you may need to think outside the box to think of some inclusive activities for them to have fun with.

Toddlers love to play with blocks, rattles, books, and even pots and pans. So get creative!

Be ready to change things up frequently. Toddlers have super short attention spans and will quickly want to move on from one game to the next.

18. Discipline How Parents Request It To Be Done

Talk with parents in advance about how discipline should be handled. Different families can have very different rules and beliefs about discipline.

Even if you think it's okay to spank, most parents nowadays don't believe that and you need to respect their wishes and use other tools like time outs or positive discipline instead.

To learn effective discipline strategies see our article: How to babysit difficult children.

19. Continually Reinforce Rules And Limits

Kids will always be trying to push the limits. It's actually a part of how toddlers develop.

You might be tempted to try and be the "cool" babysitter by breaking all of their parent's rules, but if you give in, it can actually make your job a lot harder in the long run.

Kids of all ages do best when they're given structure and boundaries. It helps teach kids self-control and self-discipline.

As a babysitter, you'll have to learn by experience which rules you need to stick to, even if you disagree with them. And other rules that are maybe in a bit more of a grey area, like staying up an extra 15 minutes past bedtime or giving them an extra cookie.

Being able to expertly navigate the rules and limits of the house will earn you the respect of both the parents and the child.

20. Teach Them Colors

Along with sorting objects and counting, toddlers are also still in the process of learning colors.

When a child picks up a toy, say the color.

They'll start to realize what you're doing, and you can start to ask specific color-related questions like "What toy is green?" and "Can you put all of the blue toys together?" That way they can start to identify colors.

21. Be Respectful Of The Home

Don't go digging through the cupboards or refrigerator unless parents have given you permission. And definitely, don't go snooping into the bedroom and other areas of the house where you don't need to be!

Even though you're babysitting and they're letting you into their house, they still deserve some basic privacy. So closets, cabinets, and drawers are off-limits unless they have given you specific permission to go into them for something.

You never know when a family has a nanny cam installed and you may be recorded on a hidden camera. Or what random things a toddler will blurt out to their parents when they get home.

22. Don't Give Toddlers Too Many Options

If you give toddlers a big pile of toys to choose from, they'll only play with the toys for a few moments before they get bored, and the whole house will be a mess.

When toddlers want to play with toys, present them with one toy at a time. That way they'll stick with one toy until they're bored, and then you can swap it out for another one. Later on, you can start offering them 2 or 3 toys at a time because they'll often want to play with multiple toys together.

When it's time to clean up, make a game out of it and get the toddler to help you. Making cleaning up a fun game will make them feel good and want to help you clean up again in the future.

23. Be Flexible

Things aren't going to go exactly as you want them to be when you're looking after a toddler. Just ask any parent! Simple tasks like cleaning up a spill become a lot more difficult when you need to also keep an eye on a toddler at the same time.

Try and be flexible, both with the child and with the parents. You might need to show up to babysit a bit earlier than expected, or parents might run a bit late.

Of course, it's fair to have some limits. But parents value a babysitter who is flexible, and it can be a good sign of dependability.

24. Don't Get Angry

Sometimes toddlers say things they don't mean. Just pretend to be shocked or laugh it off.

You can playfully pretend to be angry, such as acting insulted in an overdramatic way. You'll have to find the right balance for you so that you aren't too serious, but also not too silly.

But don't use sarcasm, because toddlers are too young to understand it, and it will just confuse them.

Explain when they do something wrong in a gentle and happy way. Toddlers will react better to that than taking a more serious tone.

Sometimes toddlers will do things just to get a rise out of you. They can be a bit evil sometimes! If you tell them not to touch something, it might turn into a game of touching different things just to see how you react. At that point, it's best just to try to redirect them to some other kind of game or activity.

25. Make Bedtime A Smooth Transition

It can be hard for kids to go to bed without their parents.

Don't mention their parents unless the toddler brings it up first, as that might just upset them more.

But if they're crying for their dad or mom, you can reassure them that you're there and it's okay. And let them know that when they wake up, their mom or dad will be there and give them a big hug. More than anything, they just need to know that their parents will be back and everything will be back to normal soon.

Make bedtime easier by reading them a story, singing them a lullaby, or rocking them in a rocking chair.

Learn some tips for getting kids to sleep by reading our article: How to get kids to bed when babysitting.

26. Stay Organized

Things will run smoother if you stick to a specific structure and routine.

A parent should give you a schedule to follow before they leave. Each child might even have their own schedule of what needs to be done hour by hour.

You'll want to make sure that naps, play times, and regular meals are all at their usual times.

Know how long each session of play or napping should last, what kind of foods you'll be feeding them, and other details. The more your agenda is planned out, the less chance there is for things to get out of control.

27. Be Kind And Caring

Toddlers are kind of a paradox. They're both fragile but also incredibly resilient. They're highly impressionable, but they can also be very stubborn!

Toddlers are still in a stage where they're constantly learning and growing. Sometimes they don't even know what they want themselves still!

Be understanding when they make mistakes. A good babysitter for a toddler needs to be gentle and empathetic to their needs. Let them know that they can confide in you when they're upset.

28. Be Open To Feedback And Criticism

The first time you watch a toddler, there's a good chance that you might do something that worries or upsets a parent. Especially since every parent has a different set of rules and expectations for their child.

Be open to the concerns of parents. Their toddler is a huge part of their world and they only want the best for them.

Ask for clarification and figure out how you can do a better job in the future. And be sure to reassure them that you'll do better in the future.

Conclusion

Babysitting toddlers can be challenging sometimes but rewarding too. Most sitters will find it’s often lots of fun and they'll look forward to it!

Babysitting toddlers is an important skill that all sitters should learn and with enough practice, it will become second nature to you.

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Written by:

Matthew Taylor

Matthew Taylor

Kidsit Founder & Editor in Chief, Father of Three, Artist, Illustrator, and Web Designer.

Published: 13 March 2019