If you’ve got a big age spread between your kids, chances are you can’t wait until your oldest is able to help out with the younger sibling. But how do you know if your tween is responsible enough? And should you even ask your child to babysit?
In Canada, there’s no agreed upon legal age at which a tween is allowed to babysit. Some experts believe 12 is an appropriate age for them to be left in charge of a younger sibling; other experts believe it’s up to the parent to decide what’s best.
Liza Finlay, a psychotherapist in private practice in Toronto, says, “Regardless of law, every child is different so this needs to be judged on an individual basis.” This applies to both the babysitter and babysittee. “Is a child ready to be responsible for another child? It depends on the maturity of the child doing the babysitting and it depends on the behaviour and personality of the child being babysat,” says Liza. “The most responsible tween may be in over her head with certain youngsters.”
That being said, if you want to prepare your tween for the role, take time to train and allow time for practice. “Teach them what they need to know and allow them to practise by increasing their autonomy incrementally,” says Liza. “You may want to first have them babysit their siblings while you’re home, and then for an hour while you’re out, and build from there.”
Though it may be hard to gauge when they are ready, she believes the decision really comes down to responsibility and reliability. Think about how your tweens handle current responsibilities. Do they show good judgment about homework? The walk home? Can they keep track of a cell phone or are they constantly losing it? If your tween can reliably manage his or her own responsibilities, it is a good sign that they may be capable of being responsible for another.
Do Girls Make Better Babysitters?
Not necessarily. “We are judging readiness by deed, not by doer,” says Liza, who says she would love to see more boys babysit. “It’s essential for young boys to have good role models, not to mention babysitters who understand their flavour of fun. I have two sons and the best babysitter they ever had was the teenaged boy who lived down the street,” she says.
Liza wouldn’t hesitate to ask older kids to babysit their own siblings. “Your tween is a part of a family. It’s important that they be given opportunities to contribute. If we don’t want the ‘entitled’ children we love to complain about, then we need to stop entitling them to a free ride. ” Her teenage son collects his little brother at school and walks him home two days a week. He also babysits one evening per month and sometimes walks his little brother to karate if Liza is running late.
The added bonus for your tween is that babysitting gives them an opportunity to earn money. This teaches them about spending it, misspending, saving it and not saving it. “Managing money is a vital life skill,” says Liza.
The Canadian Red Cross offers Babysitter certification courses. To find one near you, go to redcross.ca. In the meantime, make sure your tween babysitter knows:
- what to do if a child swallows poison;
- to keep his or her cell phone on – for safety reasons only;
- to not have friends over while babysitting unless given permission by the parent;
- what TV shows, video games or websites are allowed (or has good judgment to determine what is age appropriate).
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May 2014.