Is there any greater privilege than taking care of a child? We don’t think so! Here at Otter, we believe in providing safe, effective childcare - and this is where you, the caregiver, come in.
When taking care of a child (or children), expectations may be different for different families. Be sure to connect with the parents before care begins to ensure you’re all on the same page and write down any specific instructions they may have. Additionally, here are some basic dos and don’ts for taking care of someone else’s children:
1) Be on time and communicate quickly if anything changes, like if you are running late. Building a good relationship with the family starts before the care is scheduled. Communicate clearly, and make sure you arrive on time, ready to write down instructions and meet the kids.
2) Conduct a quick safety check by walking through the home and ensuring all is safe for the kids. If you see a safety concern, either remove it or keep the kids away from that area (example - if there is a pool without a safety fence, keep the children with you at all times and away from the pool). If the kids have allergies, be sure you do not have any food with you that can be a threat to their health or safety (ie - peanuts, dairy, etc.).
3) Stay focused on the kids the entire time. Kids love when you give them your undivided attention! Being present with them and avoiding distractions will help them feel cared for and safe. Keep your cell phone on, but avoid using it unless absolutely necessary. Do not take any photos of the children and do not have friends over. This will ensure you are able to focus completely on the kids!
4) Keep play activities appropriate for the stage of the child you are watching. One of the best parts of being a caregiver is being able to play fun games with the kids! Here are some tips based on age:
- Babies may like to play peek-a-boo, read board books, or be held as you walk around exploring their environment. They usually love bright colors and music, and if they are teething, be sure they have a safe teether to chew on. If they have siblings, they also will want to see what they are up to at all times!
- Toddlers may like to build with blocks, dance, and play fun games. Have a fun dance party (you can even play “freeze dance” where they freeze when the music is paused), or play games like Simon Says.
- Preschool aged kids love to learn through play and crafts! Coloring is a great activity that can keep little hands busy and building with sticks or blocks can occupy them for hours. You can also create an indoor obstacle course using pillows, chairs, and more, or build an indoor fort with sheets/blankets/boxes or whatever you have on hand!
- School aged children may have homework they need help with. If there is no homework, school-aged kids love games like hide and seek (be sure to set some rules, such as only hiding in the same room you are in for safety), or board games if the family has any. If you’re feeling motivated, you can also create a scavenger hunt with a fun snack or prize as the treasure at the end. If there is more than one child, you can also host a talent show - this is always a favorite!
**Remember, toys for older kids may not be safe for younger ones like Legos, doll accessories, and balloons. For more details on choking hazards, visit this webpage.
5) Keep the kids on their routine - their parents will thank you! If the kids have a nap schedule, follow that schedule. If there is a certain time they should be eating, be sure to feed them at that time. Children thrive on structure. If you are watching a baby, make sure they sleep on their back, with no other objects in their sleeping area. If there are safety monitors installed, be sure to use these and listen for the baby when they are in their room!
6) Keep doors and windows locked. When home, be sure to keep the windows and doors locked, unless told otherwise by the parents. If someone comes to the door and you are suspicious, stay inside and call 911 immediately. If the parents do ask you to take the kids outdoors, be sure to lock the door and take the key with you.
7) Ensure safe practices. Ensure everyone washes their hands before eating (or before preparing food). This will help reinforce the importance of good hand washing hygiene that their parents are also teaching them and will avoid spreading germs. If you are taking care of toddlers, they may need their food cut into smaller pieces to help avoid choking. If you are caring for an infant, be sure to chat with the parents about how they heat bottles, when the baby should be fed, and how much milk they should have at each feeding.
8) In the event of an emergency, be ready to take action and call for help. When something unexpected happens, always evaluate what the outcome may be. If needed, call 911 for an urgent emergency (ie if the child gets hurt or if there is a threatening person nearby), and then call the parents. Be sure to remove the children from the situation, if needed. If a child ingested something that is not safe, the number for poison control is (800) 222-1222.
9) Be kind, friendly, and gentle with the kids. Building a good relationship with them is important, and as you listen and work to meet their needs, they will learn to trust you.
1) Stay vigilant and don’t take your eyes off the kids. Don’t leave them alone in the yard, in the house, or near any water (including the bathtub) without supervision. Accidents happen quickly! Watching the kids in this way ensures their safety and gives you (and the parents) peace of mind.
2) Don’t leave the house with the kids without permission. Some parents may be ok with you taking the kids to the local park or going for a walk. Be sure to ask in advance before leaving the house!
3) Do not give the child(ren) medication unless directed to do so by the parents. Always notify a parent if there are any signs of illness like a fever or cough, or the child looks unwell. It’s important not to administer any medication without prior consent and permission from the parent. It’s best to wait until they get home so they can give it to the child to ensure they get the correct dosage.
4) Do not give the children a bath unless directed by the parents to do so. Some parents may be comfortable with you giving the child a bath, but it’s best to avoid this situation unless you are asked!
5) Never yell at, shake, or hit children, ever. If you feel overwhelmed, call the parents for help. It should be obvious, but is never acceptable to be aggressive towards children in your care.
End of care
At the end of providing care, be sure to give the parents a summary of how the care session went. Communicate what your favorite parts were, share some of the fun you and the kids had, and also disclose any concerns you may have. Keeping feedback open, kind and honest will help build a great rapport with the family!