The girlhood of your life is a time of powerful and lasting training. You learn to cook and sew, to study and achieve, to date and become your most gracious self, to do an endless number of creative things. In these years, too, you have opportunities to develop your skills in caring for children. As a potential mother, you gain valuable knowledge and practice while tending younger brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, or the neighbor’s children. When parents have responsibilities away from home or go out for an evening together, when mothers go off to Relief Society or lead the singing in Primary or care for a sick neighbor, your help as a baby sitter is essential. But no matter who the children or what the circumstances, there are guidelines to follow.
First things first—which means, think before you accept a tending job. No young person should accept tending jobs too young. Parents should always be consulted when a prospective job is offered. Your parents are the best judges of your ability to handle younger children.
Never accept a tending responsibility from anyone whom you, your parents, or some trusted friend does not know. Never accept if you do not plan to keep the appointment. Tend only when you are in good health.
Accept every worthwhile opportunity for the fun, for the experience, and, if you must, for the money. The learning you gain and the assistance you render will be well worth your time.
Here are some simple “will work” ideas: Be courteous to both the parents and the children. Be the high example of Latter-day Saint standards that you are expected to be. Respect the property of others.
Unless you are invited to eat a snack especially left for you, never eat anything in the house or take the children to a store to buy something to eat. If you are tending the children during mealtime, ask the mother’s instructions concerning how to prepare the food, how much to serve, and if there is anything special you should know about the eating habits of the children.
Never use the phone for extended personal calls. Never invite friends to drop in while you are tending unless you have the parents’ express consent.
Observe the house rules established by the parents. For example, if the children are not allowed in the front room to eat, they should not eat there while you are tending them. Be sure the children are in bed by the time their parents want them to be.
Have an understanding with the parents concerning what you will be paid for the evening before you accept the responsibility of tending their children.
Always be kind and loving to the children; use the outer limits of your patience, and think of them first.
Keep calm—you have to be in charge.
Before the parents leave, find out where they can be reached and ask for a list of phone numbers you can call in case of an emergency. Be aware of any physical limitations the children may have and what to do if they should need special care. Know some practical first aid. (The YWMIA Sports-Camp Manual, pp. 285–310, or Scouting materials provide excellent training for first-aid experience.)
The best thing to do is to prevent any accident by watching the children carefully.
To a child everything is new and exciting. To him life isn’t dull, learning is still spontaneous, and exploring essential. Children have boundless energy to throw into everything they do. They play with fascination, quarrel with determination, and pursue any accepted project with deep intent.
Because of their exuberant energy, it is sometime hard for them to concentrate for a great deal of time on any one subject. Success in tending children includes variety, involvement, and a keen eye on the children’s particular interests.
Keep an eye out for fun things to do. Get a milk-bottle carrier or a medium-sized cardboard box and cover it with contact paper or “happy face” stickers to make a keep-the-children-happy kit. Use this to collect things like crayons, coloring books (you might separate the pages in the book so that the first child to use it won’t color a little on every page), puzzles, blocks, jacks, balls, jump ropes, construction paper, blunt-tip scissors, colored pencils, Silly-Putty, scratch paper, story books, paste, empty thread spools, string—anything that would be fun for children, easy to carry, and safe to play with.
If it’s a special time of year, take something to make or a story to tell that fits into that special time and remember to gauge your planned activities to the age of the children. For example, if you tend a four-year-old and a six-year-old on Valentines Day, take some colored paper and crayons so the children can make special Valentines for their parents, and let the children put the Valentines they make on the parents’ dresser or bed so they will see them when they come home. Or if it is Easter time, collect stories to tell the children while they decorate egg cartons to put colored Easter eggs into.
You may find it fun to collect an idea file of things to do with children. The Friend is a great magazine for ideas; take one with you if it isn’t already in the home.
Sometimes a baby tender finds that the children just won’t behave. Your best bet is to find out why the children are naughty and lovingly treat the cause—never strike out at the symptoms. Never lose your temper! Often children get out of hand simply because they’re bored. Keep in mind that the area of discipline is a very sensitive area, and the parents’ wishes should always be respected concerning their children. Keep the children busy, happy, and safe, and you shouldn’t have any discipline problems.
Go over the following list with the parents before they leave the home. Keep a copy of this list or any commercial baby-tending checklist (these can be obtained at many large department stores) in your take-along keep-the-children-happy kit.
(Establish this in front of the children so there will be no misunderstandings.)
Phone numbers in case of emergency:
Where parents can be reached: __________
Close neighbors: __________
Estimated time of parents’ return home: __________
What to tell telephone callers: __________
What are the rules concerning eating: ________________________________________
What are the children’s favorite things to do (and what are mother’s restrictions concerning them)? ____________________________________________________________________________
Do the children have duties to finish before they go to bed? _________________________________________________________
Leave with your parents the address and phone number of where you will be tending, and tell them the approximate hour of your return.
Make sure you have a safe and prompt way to return to your home before you ever leave.
Dress properly and within the standards of the Church. A modest pants outfit would be appropriate, especially when you play with the children in the yard or on the floor.
The children always come first—you should tend them and not the time. Be happy! Children notice and will be happy too. Be excited and enthusiastic—it’s contagious. Remember there is never a time when you are in the house with children that you are not communicating with them in some way; everything you do is teaching the children.
Have fun with the children. Play with them. Let them help choose what to do. Get to know them and enjoy them as people. Involve them, listen to them, learn from them—you’ll have a ball!