Staying In Charge

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Staying in Charge:
How to Guide Your Sitter While You’re at Work

Following are some suggestions to help parents guide their sitters and stay in charge, ensuring that their child’s day is enriched with safe, stimulating, and age-appropriate activities while they are not home.

- Make a daily activity checklist for your sitter to follow. It is extremely important to do this every day to insure your peace of mind, because you know that your child is engaged in the type of activities that you would do with him or her. Your sitter will probably feel happy to have these guidelines as well, since her day will be planned, and more interesting. Be friendly and specific, i.e., “Dear Anne, I hope you and Harry have a good time today. Please include the following activities: read three books that he chooses, play the new lotto game, bake oatmeal cookies (ingredients are on the table), make a card for grandma’s birthday, and if you have time, take out two chairs to watch the construction work across the street. I’ll call you at three.”

Or you might request your sitter to take your child on a local trip once or twice a week, such as to a museum. Visits to museums should be short. Sometimes they can go to an art museum to visit only one artist’s work, such as Jackson Pollock. You should prepare child and your sitter for the visit beforehand. “Tomorrow you will be going together to see a painting by an artist who was spilling paint instead of using a brush”. Be sure to jot down the route, and leave enough cash for transportation and admissions. Be clear about ground rules for such trips, including when to go and how long to stay.

Other mini trips to the post office, supermarket, or laundromat can all be learning experiences. Go over with your sitter on the vocabulary and experience you want your child to derive from these excursions. You want your child to be a helper by putting the stamp on the envelope, placing letters in the mailbox, etc. You want him/her to learn the vocabulary associated with the visit. Example: “You can help me to put the stamp on the envelope.” Your sitter should explain the purpose of the envelope, stamp, and address. An added benefit, other than helping your child to understand and feel part of what is going on in the world, is that all the school placement tests, including those for private school kindergarten, require the ability to define in as much detail as possible basic things which we as adults take for granted, such as a stamp.

This planning will take effort on your part, but the feeling of contentment you will have knowing you are involved in the planning of your child’s day will be well worth it.

- Minimize conflict at the playground and on play dates. Prepare a “sharing bag” of neutral toys, such as pail, shovels, small cars, dolls, etc. Explain to your child that these toys are intended for playground use only, and don’t belong to anyone. Without the need to claim possession of these toys, your child will be free to enjoy the friendship of other children. Include a timer in the bag to help children take turns. The timer serves as an impersonal arbiter that helps remove the sitter from the conflict.

We encourage play dates with children in your child’s class in addition to friends and neighbors. To prepare for a play date at home, let your child choose a few toys he’s not ready to share, and put them away before the visit.

If disputes arise, suggest that the sitter move the play date to a more neutral environment, such as a playground, pizza parlor, or ice cream shop, where toys are not an issue. Keep play dates short, no longer than one hour if that is what it takes to make them end happily.

- Communicate your philosophy on discipline. To maintain consistency and avoid confusing your child, make sure your sitter follows your procedures regarding her behavior. Sitters must never be permitted to spank your child.

- Limit TV viewing. Be specific about which programs or videos your child may watch. We do not recommend Disney videos for preschoolers. They introduce too many concepts that may be scary to our children. Choose educational shows and videos that are fun and short. Make clear to your sitter your objections to violent cartoons, background TV, soap operas, or newscasts, and be sure she understands the reasons for your feelings as well. If your child wants to watch more TV or videos than you want, you can always blame it on the cable box or the TV guide. My favorites, are the Mommy Book, the Daddy Book, or the Grownup Book: ” Oh no, the Grown Up Book says that you can watch only your two programs and have only one treat per day” etc. You can explain that grownups have rules too, just like children. Tell your children that the Grownup Book helps us to be the best parents and sitters we can be.

- Explain your attitude toward toilet training. Ask your sitter to avoid pressure, minimize accidents, and praise successes while your child is learning control.

- Discuss your position on food and snacks. If you’re aiming for a diet low in sugar and fats, provide a selection of healthy snacks and relatively harmless treats such as sugarless lollipops.

- Prevent Sibling Rivalry. If your sitter also has to take care of your new baby, please make her aware of how extra sensitive she or he needs to be to the feelings of the older child. Here is a typical scenario: When the older child and baby are together in public, frequently a complete stranger, or even relatives, will, with no harm intended, compliment the younger child and ignore the older. This is very hurtful to the excluded older child. Imagine being made to feel like a wallflower living next door to the prom queen. That will help you understand how angry and upset the older child may feel. A parent or sitter has it in his/her power to intervene immediately in order to spare the older child pain and humiliation. If the baby receives a compliment on his blue eyes, say that big brother or sister has very beautiful brown eyes; if someone says that baby sister is very cute, say that big brother is very handsome, and a good climber. You get the idea. You or your sitter are intervening not to correct the adult, who is, after all, expressing affection totally unconscious of the pain being inflicted on the older sibling. You or your sitter are defusing a potentially explosive situation, and trying to maintain family harmony. Explain to your sitter that you want her or him to continue to be the advocate for your older child, giving attention to and protecting his or her feelings.

- Prepare your sitter to handle conflicts, because inevitably they will arise. Transition times – getting coats on and off; leaving to go to the dentist, supermarket, or elsewhere; putting away toys after play – are often difficult. Advise your sitter to minimize confrontation and frustration. A classic book that discusses conflict resolution with children is Haim Ginott’s Between Parents and Child.

- Safety above all. Post and review all safety data, including phone numbers and emergency fire procedures. Sitters should know basic first aid for choking and bad falls. They should be instructed never to leave your child alone under any circumstances, nor should they be distracted by cell phone conversations at home or on the street.

- Appreciate your sitter. Find opportunities to praise and reward. Don’t assume she knows she’s appreciated. By building a good relationship between yourself and your sitter, you encourage a good relationship between her and your child. Although you can never be replaced, you can at least leave home knowing your child is in hands almost as good as yours.