It isn’t unheard of, and used to be more common place. Older siblings, when taught properly, are capable of taking care of younger siblings. Depending, of course, on the ages of the children involved, and the skill and responsibility levels of the older sibling. A single mom must feel confident that this type of situation will work out, or a babysitter would need to be hired.
For how long should a sibling watch the younger child(ren)? That, too depends on the above factors. Some may be able to handle the responsibility for thirty minutes before and after school, or while you run an errand. Others for a couple hours after school. Mid-teens might be fine on one or both weekend days, and older teens will likely do fine with their siblings all week. Keep in mind that if the younger sibling has a disability or other issue, even the older teen might not be equipped for the job.
Ask yourself if each your children are up for the responsibility of being left without a babysitter. Be honest, and realistic in what each child’s responsibilities should be while you are at work or school, or running errands. Will you expect homework to be done? Chores? Will the older sibling be expected to play outside with the younger one(s), or to take them to the playground? Will snacks or meals need to be made.
Do they know safety measures for things that might happen inside the home? Out in the yard? Walking to the playground? Do they know what to do when strangers approach? It is a good idea to make sure each child knows how to handle a variety of situations before they are left alone. Most of this is automatically taught by mom over the years, but maybe there are one or two things you haven’t covered with them yet.
A few things to consider are:
- Will there be a code word for another adult who will be picking your child up after school? Or, will the school require a picture ID? Make sure that person is prepared.
- If no other people will be doing picking the child up, be sure the teachers and office staff know your older child, and that she or he will be doing so at times.
- Do you have a fire escape plan? Is it practiced often? Make sure you have one in place, and that the children know it by heart.
- Discuss with all of them about keeping doors locked when they are inside the house. About not opening doors for strangers, or telling people when they come to the door or call that you are not home. And talk to them about never accepting a ride or going anywhere with someone they do not know.
- Teenagers should know how to use the stove, and most can handle the oven. At least for simple things. If they don’t know how to do these things, it is okay to teach them now. If children are too young for a stove, be sure to have things on hand they can make, such as sandwiches, cut up vegetables, and fresh fruit.
- What emergencies might happen? What if there is a fire? Or someone gets hurt? Or sick? Who will they contact for different types of emergencies? Be sure to discuss this with them, and post a list of numbers on the wall. Include your cell phone and/or work number, the doctors name and number, 911 for real emergencies, and the numbers of people who might be able to help for smaller, non-emergency needs, such as their grandparents, your siblings, and your best friend.
- Also post an emergency sheet. Put on it whether they need to get a referral to go to the emergency room or walk-in care (and the name and number to get that referral from), the name and number of the preferred hospital, as well as a box for each person indicating names of medications they take and any allergies conditions they have. Don’t forget the name of the insurance company and the card numbers. Your child can just hand this sheet over to the people at the hospital. (Be sure to have a master copy you can print off to replace it, in case this sheet of paper does not make it back to you.)
- Children also know how to clean up small cuts and scrapes, and how to handle bee stings so they can remove the stinger.
- And they should know how to clean up after themselves after working on a project, playing, or eating.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it will get you started on the way to readying your children to be without you when the need be. They should have a good understanding of how things work, and what to do in different types of situations.
The child who is doing the babysitting deserves a little something by way of payment, even if it isn’t as much as you’d have to pay someone else. They also deserve some privileges, such as time with their friends each week and time alone. There time is precious, so make sure they know you are going to be fair.