Oh, Behave: I don't feel ready to let my 12-year old babysit

By Joe Rich on November 25, 2009


Our 12-year-old daughter is anxious to babysit her three-year-old brother. I think she has dollar signs dancing in her eyes! On the other hand, she sees us handing over big dollars to a neighbour’s 15-year-old. How do you judge the appropriate time? Will you also comment on the possibility of her maybe being a bit tough on a little brother when there’s not an adult referee nearby? The little guy can be annoying!


Many siblings babysit at age 12 for younger children in the family. Prior to babysitting, it is a good idea to see how she has been doing at home on her own while you are out and about. Once she proves she is comfortable on her own, it would be a great idea for her to take the ‘babysitting course’ run by the Canadian Red Cross through local schools and community centres to prepare for the challenges ahead. The course guidelines can be used to set standards at home and to ensure that she is neither too hard on the little one – nor too lenient!

Once she has taken the course, I’d let her babysit in stages, because setting up stages allows for growth and for us, as parents, to track how our kids are doing and what needs improvement and praise along the way. In this case, I’d suggest using the forms from the course and trying a progression like the following:

1. A first try while you shop locally, run errands or visit a neighbour (with the cell phone on).
2. A dinner in a nearby restaurant with the cell on and the restaurant number left with her.
3. A full evening away until a reasonable time (11 p.m. at the latest).

Each step along the way will allow you to see what she can handle and to give her specific feedback on meals, bedtimes, clean-ups, routines, etc. You should feel confident at the end of one stage prior to moving to the next. Safety should be a number one concern throughout. The clearer you are in your expectations, the better she will be able to do!

As an aside, I wouldn’t be too quick to discourage the “dollar signs dancing in her eyes” – as life gets more expensive (and trust me, with teenage girls it can run up quite a bill) you’ll be happy to have a motivated and hard-working daughter.

This is a time to build family, encourage sibling relationships, teach about money and negotiations, and to foster self-esteem in your 12-year-old.

By Joe Rich| November 25, 2009

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