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Sibling Sitters

Keep Child Care in the Family

Don’t have a live-in nanny? An older child in the household may be the next best option for convenient child care. 

Prepare the sitter

 “Sibling sitting is really the hardest baby-sitting of all,” says Dr. Patricia Keener, an Indianapolis pediatrician and founder of Safe Sitter.  Sometimes parents don’t put as much work into helping built-in sitters succeed as they would for outside sitters, she says.  

“Parents need to ease into sibling sitters just as they ease into any new stage of development with their children,” states Cindy Reedy, education professor and coordinator of Arcadia University’s early childhood education program in Glenside, PA.  A danger arises when children are not developmentally ready to take on an authoritative role with a younger sibling.  Also, parents must consider the social and emotional impact on all children involved if an emergency should occur, cautions Reedy.

Plan for success

Sibling sitting can succeed in your family if these concepts apply:
    • The parents are willing to teach the older child new competencies based on his maturity and responsibility level.
    • The parents trust the older child.
    • The parents and all children communicate well.
    • The siblings generally get along and share considerate behavior, affection and respect.

Pros and cons

For parents. A sibling sitter presents a quick, easy solution to child care needs for spontaneous trips to the market or after school care. Yet parents must accept that sometimes their children do not get along.  Getting an outside sitter may be inconvenient, but expecting the older child to do too much, too soon can lead to a breakdown in her self-esteem and chaos in the household, warns Reedy.  

For tweens and teens. Sitting with a younger sibling may cause resentment if the older siblings feel parents take advantage of them.  Teens and tweens can learn responsibility and an increased awareness of the challenges of parenting, but they must feel respected and appreciated and that parents support their decisions.  Parents can keep their sibling sitter happy with monetary rewards or extra privileges that show their gratitude.

For young children. Babies and toddlers often respond better to family members than strangers, especially when the child is too young to communicate effectively. Some young kids perceive that their older sibling bosses them around or neglects them, but, if handled properly, the sibling-sitter experience can improve the younger child’s acceptance of different authority figures and encourage a mutually loving relationship.

Promote Sibling Closeness at Any Age
“Family relationships are models that extend later to the community as a whole,” says Colleen Cicchetti, PhD, of Northwestern University’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.  She encourages parents to teach that responsibility is a good thing and minimize sibling rivalry by letting children help out at their ability level. 

Some sample tasks geared to different ages include:
       • A toddler can help with a new baby by washing the baby’s feet and bringing diaper supplies to an adult.
       • Children ages 5-12 can feed and bathe a younger sibling if a parent stays close by, and they can read to or play with the younger child.
   • Teens may drive younger brothers and sisters to activities, help with homework and prepare meals.
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