Parents are the sometimes the most blind about how their child really acts. I can say this because I have seen it. I go into a home and the parents assure me their kids are well behaved, respectful little angels then BOOM! the second they leave, all hell breaks loose. On the other side of the coin, I can say I KNOW how easy it is to walk all over babysitters because I was that evil little girl who went through five babysitters in one month. (No that is not an exaggeration…) So what is a teenager supposed to do when an eight year old breaks his mother’s favorite vase, or the five year old paints the house in pretty shades of pink lipstick?? How do you punish a child for saying a bad word or hitting their little sister? And at what point does bad behavior go beyond your (as the babysitter) control? I don’t know. A lot of your leeway in discipline comes from the parents. A lot of it comes from what you feel comfortable with. Some of it will be instinct. Some of it will be a mistake. But ultimately, you have to set the boundaries from the beginning so the kids know what to expect from you. We have all heard the saying “if you give a kid an inch they will go a mile..” ITS TRUE!! You could be the carefree sitter who doesn’t care if the kids eat nothing but ice cream and stay up til midnight when the parents say not too…or you could be the fun loving sitter that allows dessert if chores are done and the kids behave. Just know, if you are too buddy buddy with the kids they will take advantage of it and your job will become 10x harder in the long run.
Here is a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to disciplining kids while on the job:
- DO sit the kid aside and explain why their action is unacceptable immediately after the action has happened. If you try to explain it 3 hours later, they will have forgotten what the bad behavior was.
- DO NOT lecture them for long, their attention spans are short and they won’t remember why they are sitting down to begin with
- DO sit them in a quiet place (like their room, bathroom or corner) for the # of years old they are. I.E the max punishment for a 4 year old is 4 minutes in time out at once
- DO NOT answer the child while they are in timeout. For older kids, if they ask if they can come out restart their time in it. Once they can answer their own question, let them out.
- DO keep track of bad behaviors. If repeated multiple times, it could be a sign of behavioral disorder or action is triggered by a specific thing. This should be reported to parents. ( Jay flipped out whenever Jo-Jo would hum during homework time. He needed complete silence. We found that this was one of his ADHD triggers)
- DO NOT use capital punishment as a way to give out punishment.. if the child runs breaks his sisters hand by running over it with a scooter, it won’t end pretty if you try to do the same to him.. PLUS then there is two kids in the ER, two sets of hysterical crying, two angry parents..the list goes on..
- DO give rewards for good behavior. I created the Pinkberry Contract with one of my families. If the kids had a good behavior day they got a star. If it was a bad day they got a strike. Three strikes and no treat for the month. If they were good, they got frozen yogurt. It worked for that family. There are other reward systems out there. See future post about rewards.
- DO NOT give incentives to calm down once they are riled up. Candy, cookies and ice cream are among the worst but toys, games or t.v. time is just as bad. If the kid has been bad consistently bad during the day, there is no need to add a reward like dessert. It only tells the child that bad behavior is ok.
- DO set boundaries early. Let the child know what is acceptable and unacceptable when you are in charge. Make a chart with the rules spelled out clearly or make a fun song that can help them remember it.
- DO NOT make up fake punishments like calling their parents when you don’t actually do it, or calling an imaginary police man who will take them to jail if they don’t straighten up. These methods lead to more problems down the road when Policeman Jones doesn’t actually come to take them to jail or mom can’t remember giving her “punishment” over the phone.
I have always set the standard for myself that I will never hit, spank or grab a child that I watch. I will not scream in their face or talk down to them. I will not use “capital punishment” on a child of any age for any punishment. And I will work hard to stay calm and stay in control of every situation that arises.
What happens when a parenting style collides with your standards and ways of operating?
It sucks. I have been with a family for almost a year now we have never been on the same page as me when it comes to disciplining the children. I am with the family for the majority of the week but between the parents lack in co-parenting and adding me to the mix, the kids can basically get away with murder since there is no consistency. I hear “well dad lets us drink soda” from the kids and turn around and the mom is banning soda. Or “mom hits us if we talk at the dinner table but dad lets us eat in the family room”. I am constantly battling the mom said dad said syndrome. For the most part, I tended to lean with the mom’s standards of disciplining until one day when Jay’s consistent bad attitude had reached its breaking point for all of us. What I witnessed that day will haunt me forever, as I have never seen a parent discipline a child so ruthlessly. I could NEVER treat my kids or any other kids in that manner regardless of if I had “permission” to do so.
My advice is this, every family has their own disciplining methods. Don’t get in the habit of using time outs or taking items away. It can make escalating to more severe punishments easier. Talk openly with the parents you are working for and ask what works for their kids. Some children don’t like small spaces so shoving them in the closet for 10 minutes will not help them calm down. It will have the opposite affect. Other kids NEED a space to decompress and separate from their surroundings and the closet may be the only place that is possible. Tell parents your comfortability level with discipline. If you don’t mind shoving soap in their mouth when they cuss, make that clear. Bottom line, the more consistency and transparency between parent and sitter the better. You have to do what you feel is right and trust that the parent’s chose YOU to watch their precious children for a reason. They TRUST you.