Are You Preparing ‘Substitute’ Babysitters for the Holiday Season?

It's one thing to find a babysitter, but it turns out many parents aren't providing those sitters with info they might need in case of an emergency.

The holidays are busy and often a break from routine. For some parents, this can mean a break from regular babysitters. In an effort to find a babysitter during this time, parents might ask family or friends to watch their children while they shop or work. However, a new poll from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor indicates parents might not properly prepare for the “substitute” babysitters.

According to the poll, less than half of parents with children ages 0-5 posted key emergency contact information in their home for babysitters. Only 48 percent wrote out work or cell phone numbers, while only 47 percent left the child’s doctor information. Of those surveyed, 42 percent left information for an alternative contact, such as a nearby family member, friend or neighbor.

“If you are going to be gone a long time, you tend to plan a little bit more. Where we tend to fall into the trap is when we say we are going to zip out shopping quickly and it doesn’t feel like a big deal,” says Sarah Clark, associate research scientist in the Department of Pediatrics at Mott Children’s Hospital and co-director of the poll. “We don’t stop to think about what the babysitter might need in an emergency.”

Leave important information

In the event of an emergency, parents need to make sure the babysitters are prepared. Clark suggests putting a list of important information on the refrigerator or family bulletin board. This information includes the parents’ phone numbers, the number of a nearby alternate, the address of the home and the child’s doctor’s number – along with a list of any health conditions.

Clark recommends parents also make sure babysitters know their hospital preference should the child need emergency medical attention.

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“In a situation where things are getting hectic, you don’t want the babysitter to be fumbling for that information,” Clark says. “Sometimes parents have a simple first aid book or one-page information sheet that gives some idea of what to do in an emergency. Have on hand whatever you think would help them stay comfortable and confident.”

If parents think they may not have good cell phone reception or plan to be in a noisy place, Clark says they need to make sure the babysitters are aware of it and have options for another person to call.

“With cell phones, we tend to think that we are always available, but there are a fair number of moments in the day that are going to decrease the likelihood that we will answer our cell phones, and there are moments when we don’t have that cell phone right next to us,” Clark says.

Give babysitters an alternate

While those experienced with caring for children might be able to make judgment calls about the severity injuries or illness, those who don’t interact with children may find it difficult to know what to do in an emergency, or even a non-urgent medication situation.

The poll revealed that for a minor burn, 13 percent of adults without children at home would call the child’s doctor while 18 percent would take the child to the emergency room. It also showed that if a child were to swallow unprescribed medication, 49 percent of adults would call Poison Control while 38 percent would immediately take the child to the ER.

Clark says parents need to give babysitters some options for help, should they need it. She suggests leaving the phone number of a neighbor or nearby family member who knows the child and could help make the decisions about how to care for the child.

“Sometimes just having someone in close proximity like that makes a big difference. Calling somebody right next door doesn’t feel like a big deal to an unsure babysitter. Make the request for assistance easier by setting up the pathway and make that known to the babysitter,” Clark says.

Having someone else who can check in or help make decisions about immediate care can take a lot of pressure off the babysitter.

Make safety instructions clear

When having an older adult stay with the child, it’s important to make sure they understand safe practices that might not have been used when they were raising children – like putting babies to sleep on their backs with no blankets.

“Find your strategy that might speak to the situation without creating a confrontation,” Clark says. She has heard of parents mentioning that a doctor recommended doing something a certain way in order to avoid pushback from the caregiver.

Clark also recommends that parents remind the babysitter to handle emergency situations, call 9-1-1 if needed, and then contact them after the immediate danger has passed.

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