How to Be a Better Grandparent Babysitter

  • 01 of 05

    The Basics of Babysitting Grandchildren

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    Babysitting grandchildren can be great fun, especially if you can hold on to your booty. Photo © SelectStock | Getty Images

    Most grandparents greet their first babysitting assignment with a mixture of delight and apprehension. While we can't wait to get our hands on the grands, we are also aware that the parents may hold us to exacting standards. And we certainly don't want anything to go wrong.

    Think Ahead for Safety's Sake

    Safety is, of course, paramount. That's why some parents may want you to take a grandparenting class or a class in CPR. If you are going to be babysitting in your own home, you'll need to...MORE make it as safe as possible by going through a childproofing process. Of course no home is truly childproof. That's why vigilance is key.

    It's vital that you are able to get help quickly in case of emergency. Don't rely on being able to call the parents' cell phones. Cell phones die, get lost, get dropped in toilets and can't be heard in noisy venues. Have other numbers at hand, including the child's doctor, poison control and nearby friends and relatives. If babysitting somewhere other than your own home, find out whether a landline is available, but always take your own phone and charger just in case.

    Although plenty of grandparents pull off solo babysitting, having a partner is nice, especially if you are sitting with more than one child or if you are dealing with a newborn. If you don't have a spouse or significant other, sometimes a friend will give you a hand. Be judicious about asking your friends, though. Some will be thrilled, and some less so. 

    Respect the Parents' Wishes

    No matter what the age of the grandchildren, know the parents' rules and do your best to stick to them. When the grandchildren are in your own home, however, grandparents have the right to make certain decisions.. 

    The issues that arise during babysitting vary according to the ages of the grandchildren. Minor mishaps are inevitable, but thinking ahead can prevent many incidents and make your time with your grandchildren as precious as it rightfully should be.

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  • 02 of 05

    Babysitting Infant Grandchildren

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    Taking care of an infant grandchild can be a treat and a challenge. Photo © Jamie Chomas | Getty Images

    Infants usually come with instructions! Many parents, especially new parents, give babysitters copious instructions, sometimes written, sometimes oral. If oral instructions are all you get, you may want to make a few notes yourself.

    It's important to remember, however, that the absence of parents causes babies to abandon their normal behaviors. When the parents tell you that the baby is always asleep by eight, but you can never achieve that goal before ten, all that means is that the baby is...MORE sensitive to the absence of parents. It doesn't mean that you are not competent.

    Babysitting and Early Bonding

    Babysitting is one of the best ways to bond with an infant grandchild. Many grandparents find having one-on-one time with baby is a vital part of enjoying their grandbaby's first year. Still, caring for infants is exhausting, physically and mentally. Be well-rested, and don't volunteer for a babysitting assignment that is longer than your stamina is likely to last.

    At around six months of age, many children begin to show signs of anxiety when their parents leave them. This may cause babies to act as if they do not like their grandparents. Separation anxiety is usually the culprit. It's important to remember that this is just a stage and not a permanent situation. Many children outgrow it by their first birthday, and almost all cases are resolved by age two. Still, it can make babysitting tough for the duration.

    Babysitting at the Baby's Home

    You may have visited in your grandchild's home many times, but that doesn't mean that you are prepared to babysit there. Take a minute to look for hazards such as step-ups or step-downs or rugs that are easy to trip over.

    When you are at the baby's house, you won't have to worry about having the proper baby equipment. You may, however, need to be shown how to use the baby monitor or the Diaper Genie.

    If the baby sleeps in a standard crib, be sure that you are able to get the baby in and out of the crib. Babies who normally go to sleep on their own often resist sleep when their parents are away. That leads to the grandparent holding the baby until he or she falls asleep. Trying to get a sleeping baby into a crib can be difficult, especially if the grandparent is short or the baby is heavy. The new cribs do not have the drop sides that grandparents may be accustomed to. (Some have drop gates and some simply have stationary sides.)

    If the crib is a problem for you, work with the parents to find a solution. Maybe they have a travel crib, play yard or bassinet that is better for you. Using one of these sleep spaces also means that you can keep the baby near you instead of in a separate room.

    Some parents practice co-sleeping, but there is some evidence of a higher risk of SIDS when infants co-sleep with someone other than parents. For that reason, most pediatricians do not recommend co-sleeping with a grandbaby. There is also some evidence that a product such as a Snuggle Nest can reduce the risks of co-sleeping.

    Babysitting at Your Own Home

    If your grandbaby lives nearby, I recommend having your own baby crib. My personal recommendation is a foldable portable crib that is like a smaller version of a full-sized crib, but there are many baby cribs suitable for grandparents' houses. If you are really short on room, the parents can bring over their travel crib or portable play yard, but the easier you make it for them, the more likely you are to get to babysit again.

    The parents will probably bring the baby over in a baby seat. It can serve as a spot to park the baby and in a pinch can serve as a feeding chair if the baby is on solid food. Always fasten the baby in securely, and never put the seat on a table or counter. Feeding chairs are inexpensive, and many grandparents will want to invest in one because the baby's other seat can be hard to clean.

    Invest in a few basic baby supplies in case of emergencies. Also, having a few simple toys will make visiting you a pleasant experience.

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  • 03 of 05

    Keeping Your Toddler and Preschool Grandchildren

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    Sometimes it seems that toddler grandchildren never get tired. Photo © Geber86 | Getty Images

    I hope you've been taking care of yourself, because it's about to get real. When you are in charge of toddler and preschool grandchildren, even the most competent grandparents can find their strength depleted and their patience ebbing. In the next moment, however, they will be reminded of just how much fun children of these ages can be.

    Care and Feeding

    Toddler and preschool grandchildren will need ample opportunity to be active. Outdoor activities are great if you are up to them, but this is the...MORE age when some grandchildren become able to outrun their grandparents. Staying in confined areas may be necessary for safety. Remember that it's possible to burn up energy indoors, too. If the grandchildren are sleeping over, or if they are staying past bedtime, active play will help them be ready to sleep.

    From ages 1-4, grandchildren often display definite biases about food. Some become picky eaters. Follow the parents' food rules and try to see that the grandchildren get some nourishment, but if the child rejects a carefully prepared meal, don't stress too much. One skimpy meal is not a problem.

    If you are babysitting more than one grandchild, expect sibling rivalry or cousin rivalry. This is also the age when temper tantrums or meltdowns occur and when children learn to test limits. You'll need to be prepared to discipline grandchildren in a manner that is both consistent with the parents' approach and acceptable by your own standards.

    Toddlers and Preschoolers in Your Home

    These are the years when children are usually eager to visit grandparents and when they enjoy all the little rituals that you employ. At these ages, children love repetition, and they will enjoy having favorite foods, reading certain books and doing favored activities over and over. Although an occasional new toy will be welcomed, their need for new things is not as strong as their desire for ritual.

    When You Are in Their Home

    This need for ritual can sabotage your babysitting experiences at their home. Toddler and preschool grandchildren may expect you to do things the way their parents do them, but they may lack the verbal abilities to explain just what they want. A cry fest can result.

    The more familiar you are with your grandchild's routines, the better prepared you will be to babysit. Although some grandparents disapprove of electronic amusements for young children, if they are accustomed to watching a certain TV program or playing a certain game on a tablet, you should know how to operate the devices.

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  • 04 of 05

    Hanging Out With School-Age Grandchildren

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    School-age grandchildren can learn real-life skills from grandparents. Photo © Blake Little | Getty Images

    What's not to like about babysitting school-age and tween grandchildren? They are old enough to be good communicators but usually are still interested in being with their grandparents. They know how to take care of their own needs, although they may need reminders to do so.

    As grandchildren approach the teen years, they may seem less interested in hanging out with you. But there are solutions if you feel that you are boring your grandchildren. Check out these five fun things to do with tweens.

    This...MORE is also prime time for incorporating outings into your babysitting assignments. Get the permission of the parents, of course, but consider zoo trips and museum outings, as well as some offbeat destinations.

    Hanging Out at Their House

    At the grandchildren's home, you may have the issue of friends and neighbor children coming over. Talk to the parents ahead of time about this possibility, and feel free to reject visitors if you don't feel you are up to supervising extra children. Some grandparents love meeting their grandchildren's friends, and other grandparents prefer having their grandchildren to themselves. The parents should also give you a heads up if children who are rowdy, disobedient or have behavioral issues are likely to appear.

    Being at their house gives the grandchldren the opportunity to show off their abilities in sports, music, gaming and other areas, as well their artwork and school awards. Children at these ages will love receiving attention and recognition, although grandparents should be careful not to overpraise.

    Hanging at Your House

    Teaching grandchildren a skill is both fun and useful, and grandchildren ages 6 to 12 are old enough to learn. Your own house is the best venue for these activities, as you will be most comfortable teaching them in your own environment. Consider cooking, sewing, simple repairs, gardening or assembling something. Prepare for a visit by being sure that you have the necessary supplies on hand.

    Playing cards with grandchildren is a time-honored pastime and one that modern grandchildren will enjoy. Teach them proper card-playing etiquette in the process. These are also prime ages to enjoy board games, puzzles and science experiments. Sharing a collecting hobby is also a great bonding activity

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  • 05 of 05

    Taking Care of Special Needs Grandchildren

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    Siblings can be valuable helps when grandparents care for special needs grandchldren. Photo © Jose Luis Pelaez | Getty Images

    Babysitting special needs grandchildren is scary for some grandparents, but most report that in spite of their initial apprehensions, they were rewarded by feeling closer to their grandchild than ever before. Grandparents may have to acquire special skills, but knowing that you have provided a real service for your family will make it worthwhile.

    Most special needs children long to be treated like other children. Grandparents may tend to lower their expectations too much and may give special...MORE needs grandchildren a pass for bad behavior. Sitting in on consultations with health care professionals can help grandparents to understand what expectations are reasonable for their grandchildren. Of course, the parents are always the primary resource for advice and insights.

    Including siblings in babysitting arrangements can be a good strategy. Siblings can be a storehouse of knowledge about a special needs child. Of course, in the case of serious concerns, a child's input should not be relied upon. Also, trying to care for young children and a special needs child at the same time may be more than a grandparent can handle.

    Caring for Special Needs Grandchildren in Their Own Home

    Some children may have to be cared for in their own homes, where they have the necessary equipment. It's a good idea for grandparents to observe and participate in caregiving before they take on solo babysitting assignments. Also, they should be thoroughly versed in the what-ifs -- what to do if this happens. Most parents of special needs children are accustomed to staying in contact and will be only a phone call away, but grandparents who can safely handle small crises will earn extra kudos. On the other hand, if a situation has the potential to turn serious, a grandparent should never hesitate to call the parent, the child's doctor or 911.

    Hosting Special Needs Grandchildren in Your Home

    Most special needs grandchildren deserve the experience of visiting a grandparent's home. Sometimes building modifications are necessary to make this happen. Most importantly, grandparents should start slowly -- with short visits -- and take on longer visits only when they feel comfortable.