How to Babysit Preschoolers
Learn what preschoolers need, what's important to them, effective discipline strategies, and common mistakes all babysitters should avoid.
Babysitting is hard work, and it’s not very clean either. You can fully expect that you’ll be covered in all kinds of messes, biological and otherwise, by the end of the day.
On the flip side, you want to come across as professional. Nobody wants to look like a slob, and professionalism will help you to find work and get a good wage.
Let’s go over some tips that will help you strike that perfect balance between professionalism and practicality.
If you want a quick list of clothing suggestions, here’s the short and simple version.
If you want something meatier, then read on! We’ll go over all the tips and tricks that will help you nail it from the first visit.
This is the most important factor. Whatever you wear needs to be practical for the job. If you show up with a skirt and high heels, you might look phenomenal and ready for the classiest of proms. But as soon as you start to work, you’ll look absolutely ridiculous.
Babysitting isn’t easy work! You need to be able to chase kids, bend down, clean up messes, and endure indignities like getting puke and boogers all over you. Aim less for cute and more for functional.
All that said, for the first meet-and-greet, you’ll probably want to dress up slightly more than you would for a regular day of babysitting. It’s important to give a good first impression, so spending a little more time on your appearance is worthwhile.
While your clothing does need to be practical first and foremost, you still need to present yourself professionally.
Nobody wants a total ragamuffin taking care of their kids; it’s just not setting a good example for young people. You also want people to take you seriously.
Be careful with certain popular fashions and styles. You might think they look cool, but they can also portray certain attitudes. For example, does your presentation make you appear caring and nurturing, or does it portray an “I don’t care” or rebellious attitude?
Most parents will want their children to be cared for in an orderly manner that encourages obedience and respect for authority. When you look at yourself, do you look like someone that fits that description? Would people take you seriously? Do you look like you’re responsible?
In real life, people do judge books by their cover. Parents are entrusting you with the most valuable thing they have, and you need to give them every reason to be confident in you.
Striking this balance between practical and professional can be pretty challenging to apply without examples. So let’s go over some guidelines for each element of your outfit.
Tops should be modest, clean, and practical. There are a lot of things that are common in tops that just really aren’t a good idea for babysitting. Here are some examples of things to avoid:
Aside from looking professional, there are a few things that just don’t mix well with kids. For example, small children especially love to grab on to shirts. If you have a low-cut tank top, you might end up giving everyone an eyeful when a toddler decides to pull your shirt down. Tank tops aren’t professional, either. Keep your boobs to yourself.
Depending on the weather, you might want to bring a sweater or hoodie. Just make sure that whatever you bring can get dirty. Some sweaters are really hard to wash, and they will get dirty. Most people find that darker clothes are easier to clean and keep stain-free compared to very light-colored clothes.
Also, make sure the stuff that you wear is in good shape. Don’t show up in clothes that are stained, ripped or covered in paint. That includes clothing that’s intentionally ripped.
Here’s a list of ideas for tops that generally work great for babysitting:
Those aren’t exhaustive lists, but they should get the idea across in terms of what’s appropriate for babysitting.
A lot of the same rules apply for bottoms. Here’s a list of pointers for things to avoid:
Skirts and dresses are an absolute pain for working with kids. You’ll be bending, cleaning, sitting on the floor, and running around at the playground. Skirts and dresses don’t make this easy.
The same thing goes for tight pants. If you can’t easily squat in your bottoms, then they’re just not practical for babysitting.
Honestly, jeans are great for babysitting. As long as they’re in good shape and fit comfortably, they’re professional enough for the occasion and they’re highly functional. It’s also really easy to clean them; they don’t stain as easily as a lot of other pants.
Some people find that jeans can be stiff and difficult to move around in. If you have the same problem, try out some jeans that are stretchy. Usually, jeans with some spandex in them will have a lot more give and will let you move around more freely. Or just wear some that aren’t quite so tight.
If jeans really aren’t your thing, then a good, sturdy pair of darker pants or khakis will work well too. Don’t wear something that rips easily.
You might have noticed that yoga pants and leggings were in the “no” pile. The main reason for this is that people will likely see the outline of your underwear, which really isn’t professional. There are, however, some pants like this that will do a good job of hiding them.
Either way, proceed with caution on this one. If you know the parents and they’re cool with it, it might not be a problem. Generally, though, tight pants like those aren’t considered very professional, and some people might have a problem with them.
Rule of thumb: If we can see your underwear preferences, wear something else.
Stain resistance is a great feature for any clothes. It’s pretty well guaranteed that you’ll get peanut butter and jelly in your lap, and often much worse.
Good footwear is critical! You probably won’t be spending all your time on your feet, but you’ll very likely be taking the kids on outings to the park and around the neighborhood.
Tennis shoes are great, but so is something that’s quick and easy to slip on and off. You’re going to have your hands full getting the kids dressed to go outside, so it’s nice if it’s convenient for you to get yourself ready.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you should have no problem running in your shoes. If the kids are in trouble or heading for traffic, you don’t want to be tripping during the rescue. Practicality always comes first for footwear.
In other words, avoid things like high heels or flimsy footwear.
Boots and sneakers are very practical for babysitting.
Don’t overlook this one! You want to look nice and presentable, but you could really regret a wrong choice of accessories.
Remember that kids grab everything. Long, dangling earrings are pure temptation for a one-year-old. Watch out for hoops especially if you want to keep your ear holes.
Necklaces are good to avoid, too. They’ll break easily, and they’ll always be in your way. As a general rule of thumb, anything that can be pulled or that will get in your way when you’re cleaning is best left at home.
Another thing to watch for is any jewelry that’s bulky or that has sharp edges. Those kinds of accessories don’t mix well with kids.
Keep makeup simple and modest. You’ll want to look good when you show up but avoid face painting. It’s easy to present yourself as immature if your makeup is slathered on with a trowel. Go minimalist and you’ll be well suited for the job.
You really don’t need to go all-out here and get a French manicure. Actually, having long nails can be a total pain! They’re hard to play and clean with, and you don’t want to accidentally scratch the kids.
On the other hand, you don’t need to have your nails clipped right down and completely plain. Having them painted and/or modestly decorated is entirely ok, and it might actually look fun for the kids. They love bright colors or fun nail art.
The main thing to keep in mind is that they should be clean and practical. If you show up with dirt under your nails or looking grubby, you won’t come across as professional. The parents might even question your hygiene. That would not be good.
If you have piercings beyond regular ear piercings, you’ll probably want to proceed with caution. The parents might not be crazy about the image you could portray to their kids. On the other hand, they might have no problem with them at all.
One point of reference is that some daycares don’t allow their employees to have facial piercings beyond an earring in each ear. These restrictions are actually pretty common at a lot of workplaces.
Another practical reason to not show up with facial piercings is that kids are super grabby. It doesn’t feel very nice when these are pulled from your face.
If it’s possible, you might want to consider removing any extra piercings or at least go with smaller studs, before meeting the family.
Please wash your hair. Showing up in pajamas with greasy hair is not cool.
You’ll also want to avoid anything extravagant. Don’t work with your hair done up in a way that it could get caught on something, especially little fingers.
Most babysitters opt for a simple ponytail. Although, if your hair is short, then you’ll probably be fine with it as-is. Just make sure that your hair is out of the way and it looks good (not “arguably good enough”).
The point here is that your hair should help you look professional and let you do a good job without distraction. Make sure your hair is washed and that you don’t show up with bed head, and you should be fine.
The first impressions are the most important. Make sure you nail your appearance for the first meet and greet, and for the first few jobs with the family. As you go, you’ll get a feel for what’s acceptable and what’s not. You might be able to get away with something more casual once you’re more familiar with everyone and they get to know you better.
This is always a good idea, regardless of the age of the kids you’re caring for. It’s pretty likely that you’ll get some kind of body fluid at some point in time.
Another thing to remember is that you’ll probably get your clothes stained. Whether you’re making a snack for the kids or cleaning a disaster with bleach, you’re running a high risk of wrecking your outfit. A change of clothes can let you quickly get out of dirty clothes and soak them immediately for minimal damage.
The other thing is that nobody likes spending a day in gross, puked-on clothes.
If you’re planning on doing a lot of babysitting, this might actually be a really good idea!
Some people have picked up some outfits that are specifically for childcare. For example, there are some really nice, not too baggy scrubs (kind of like a cargo style) that aren’t very expensive at all. The nice thing about these is that they’re easy to clean and nobody will doubt that you take your job seriously!
For something a little more low-key, some have picked up tee shirts or polo shirts with their name embroidered on them. Aside from looking really professional, this can make it really clear that you’re the caregiver if you’re at the park or on other outings.
If you’re not going to be spending a significant amount of time babysitting, you probably won’t want to spend the cash on complete uniforms. If you use your regular, everyday clothing, you’re running a pretty high risk of wrecking them.
If you have some older clothing that’s still in good shape, then, by all means, use them for babysitting. You don’t want to wreck your nice clothes at work.
A great alternative is to head over to some garage sales or thrift shops. You can find perfect outfits for babysitting and only spend a few bucks. This is also clothing that you can use for other work, too.
Sometimes, you’ll hardly be spending any time at the family’s home. You might be expected to run the kids around to soccer practice, the library, music lessons, the park, the pool, the beach, and a hundred thousand other places.
You’ll want to make sure that whatever you’re wearing is appropriate for running around. This might mean bringing a sweater or jacket in cool weather. For warm weather, you might want to dress lighter so that you can handle the heat.
This is when you’ll want to pay special attention to your footwear. If you’re taking the kids to a muddy park, don’t wear nice shoes. If it’s raining, wear something that can get wet.
One thing you want to be careful with is when you’re taking the kids swimming. If you’re going to wear a swimsuit, it needs to be modest and practical. A string bikini doesn’t mix well with kids. They like to pull strings, and everyone will likely get an eyeful. Wear something that covers you up to a reasonable degree.
At the end of the day, you should look professional and practical. Give yourself a full once-over in front of a mirror before you head out the door. If you aren’t sure about something, ask for a second opinion.
Another thing to watch for is how you present to the opposite sex. Are you dressed in a way that would make the wife uncomfortable with you being around the husband? If so, you might have a really hard time landing a job.
For careers like child care, modesty is extremely important. If the way you look indicates that you’re trying to attract the attention of the opposite sex, then it’s not appropriate for child care. You’re the one that needs to set a good example for the kids, and you need to encourage trustworthiness with the entire family.
Here’s a checklist for you to run through before you leave your home:
If you're buying clothes to wear while babysitting you can claim them back on your tax. See our tax guide for details: How to write off babysitting expenses.
To be well prepared for a babysitting job, you should put together a babysitting kit. Your kit can accomplish three objectives:
If you’d like a full guide on how to make the ultimate babysitting kit, check out this article: What Should I Bring to a Babysitting Job?
For a babysitting interview, you should aim to dress a little more formally than you would when on the job. Even still, you don’t want to overdo it! You want to portray that you’re well suited for the job.
It’s especially important to nail your appearance on any job interview. First impressions really do count! Don’t do anything extravagant, but definitely shoot for a well put-together appearance.
Make sure that you’re dressed modestly and appropriately to interact with the kids for the initial visit. Very likely, the parents will want to see what the kids think of you. In other words, try to be especially tidy and professional for interviews, but still dressed in a very practical way. This will give the parents confidence that you know what you’re doing.
At the very least, a babysitter should clean up any messes that were made while the parents were away. No parent wants to come home to a messy house. They might even question if hiring a babysitter is worth it if they have to spend a significant amount of time cleaning up afterward.
However, the parents might ask you to do more housekeeping. If this is the case, you’ll usually be able to earn more per hour. All of these expectations should be negotiated beforehand.
If you’d like a guide on how to set parent expectations and negotiate the requirements, take a look at this article: Should Babysitters Clean? How to Set Parents Expectations.
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