Tori Rooney always knew she wanted to babysit. So before her 12th birthday, the Berwyn, PA resident took a Red Cross babysitting and CPR class. Now 17, Tori has several years of babysitting experience under her belt, and the lessons she learned five years ago still come in handy.
“The course helped me feel a lot more prepared if something were to happen,” says the high school senior. “It made me more aware of my surroundings when I’m babysitting, such as keeping pots and pans off the stove and putting away sharp objects. When I moved into the neighborhood I sent out a babysitting flyer and included the fact that I was Red Cross- and CPR-certified. I think any parent would agree that makes me more competent.”
Tori took an additional first aid and CPR class through her high school last year. “This was more in-depth and makes me more confident,” she says.
Sitter and safety instruction for teens and tweens is now just a click away, with many classes being offered online. The more traditional pay-as-you-go classes in local communities and free in-school courses remain popular.
Basic childcare & hot-button issues
Today’s babysitters must know more than simply how to amuse a child until bedtime. Whether your child wants to babysit others or watch younger siblings, classes offer invaluable, hands-on instruction. Kids learn skills including how to hold an infant, change diapers and choose appropriate games for different ages. But there’s more to it than just childcare.
“We had a 13-year-old who took our class, and a few weeks later her 18-month-old brother choked on a piece of cereal,” says Janice Boehmer, service delivery manager for the Delmarva, MD, DC and VA American Red Cross. “She dislodged the cereal and saved her brother.”
Cooper University Hospital in Voorhees, NJ offers a popular daylong Safe Sitter course that covers everything young caretakers should know, starting with the business of babysitting:
- How much sitters should charge
- An appropriate time frame for accepting or turning down a job
- What age of kids they want to watch — infants, toddlers or older children
- What a sitter’s duties should and shouldn’t include — cleaning, bathing, etc.
Among the thorny issues covered in the Cooper course is how to ask whether a family has a gun in the house and, if so, whether it is loaded as well as what to do if a charge’s parent comes home drunk.
“Babysitters need to create a safety signal with their parents," says Nancy Keleher, director of Cooper University Healthcare’s community outreach and corporate wellness. "If the adult a child has been babysitting for has been drinking, instead of having that person drive her home, the babysitter can say she needs to call her mother because she was invited to a sleepover and her things are in her family’s car,”
In recent memory, our region has seen superstorms, blizzards, floods, even an earthquake. Courses with names like Masters of Disasters give tweens and teens valuable information to help themselves and the kids they care for. The Red Cross offers these classes free of charge to schools, scout troops and other community groups.
“We recently visited a middle school whose students had all been affected by Hurricane Sandy,” says Suzanne Farris, volunteer specialist for the American Red Cross. “We talked about hurricane preparedness, the science of how a hurricane develops and how the students can make a kit, get a plan and stay informed.”
One practical tip teaches kids how to time the count between thunder and lightning, to know if the storm is getting closer or farther away. “If thunder roars, go indoors,” explains Farris. “If there are 30 seconds from flash to bang, they need to seek safety. Thirty minutes after the last flash and bang they can go back out to play.”
How to choose a babysitter class
When it comes to babysitter classes, some are free, others have a fee, all with different time requirements. For those interested in a basic, non-hands-on class, the Red Cross recently added a four-hour online option.
Boehmer recommends classes that offer certification and have professional instructors. “Parents need to be sure kids are getting knowledge-based information that is accurate,” she says.
Terri Akman is a MetroKids contributing writer.