“JoAnne, what the heck is a ‘Binky’?” “Suzie’s screaming for it, and I’ve tried everything.” “Beats me, John. I haven’t a clue.” “It’s her pacifier, Granddad. She won’t go to sleep without it.” “Thanks, Joey. Now tell me why your brother’s not eating his spaghetti.” “You have to take the meatballs out. He won’t eat them.” “Good thing we have you. How’s the homework coming?” “Great, but I need to go to the library after dinner.” “Know how to get there, Joey?” “I thought you’d know.”
Babysitting your grandkids is a piece of cake, right? A time to bond, share some quiet time, play some games, go to the zoo – do grandparent things. “We’ll be fine,” you tell the parents. “Don’t worry. Just have a good time!” The door closes. The car starts. Off they go. And then it hits you. You’re in their environment – their house, their town. And you’re on your own. Help!
You’re perfectly capable of taking charge, but not without some preliminary planning. A list provided by the parents of names, phone numbers, directions, and likes and dislikes of the children will go a long way in turning a visit with the grandkids into an enjoyable experience rather than a disaster. Don’t wait until the parents are coming down the stairs for their time away to ask for information. Instead, be proactive. As soon as they ask you to save the babysitting dates, request the following information:
First and foremost, you need health information. You’ll need a health care permission slip signed and dated by the parents – giving you permission to seek medical care for the children, should it be required. For insurance to pay for treatment, you’ll need the children’s insurance cards – the originals. Have the parents leave them where you can find them. You’ll also need the pediatrician’s name, phone number and office address.
Hopefully, you won’t need it, but you should also have directions to the nearest hospital. You should have a list of any medications the children are taking, where to find them, when to administer them, and the dosage. You’ll also need to know any allergies the children might have. Have the parents demonstrate the proper installation of a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat or booster seat if you are watching infants or preschool children. Ask for local laws on seat belt usage for older children.
Next, you need information on the house and neighborhood. How do you turn on/off the security system, heating/air conditioning, pool pump, smoke detectors, microwave, computer? What regular service people come to the house – housekeeper, exterminator, landscaper, etc? What are the dates and times for trash and recycling pickup and mail delivery? How do you get to the grocery, drugstore, nearby restaurants, shops, library, parks, etc.?
A local map can be quite helpful, as can a list of close neighbors and their phone numbers. The name and phone number of a favorite babysitter will be invaluable in case an emergency arises [see Emergency Information List below] and you need to leave one or more of the children at home.
If you’re caring for school-age children, you’ll need to know the school’s name, phone number, and location; the starting and ending times or bus times and how the child gets there; the teacher’s name and regular assignments or homework; whether the child buys or brings lunch; and what the child usually wears. You should have the parents leave permission with the school for you to pick up the child if necessary or call for homework or information. (Most schools will not release a child to anyone other than the parent/parents without their permission.)
A list of close friends and their parents’ names will be invaluable if the children want to visit one another or you have a question on school work. If the children have after-school activities, you’ll need to know the times and locations for lessons or practice; the phone number of the teacher or coach; what clothing or equipment the child needs; and an indication of whether payment is needed.
Today, all sorts of online data storage programs (such as Travel Stix or My Child’s Locket) are available for keeping track of the grandkids’ information and permission forms, and GPS trackers like SecuraPAL to tuck in a child’s pocket for peace of mind.
If the parents agree beforehand, you might suggest they leave behind a note or activity for each day they’re gone, such as “Have fun at gymnastics today. We’re thinking of you. Mommy and Daddy.” That’ll let the children know they’re loved and still a part of their parents’ busy lives. You should also assure small grandchildren that “mommy and daddy will come home.”
You might bring along some age-appropriate coloring or activity books and a new box of crayons for each child to help fill “down” time. If the children are old enough, a project to be completed during the visit will make the time go faster and leave a tangible memory.
If you’re not sure of their interests, why not take the children with you to pick out an activity you can do together? And don’t miss the chance for bedtime reading. If the children are old enough, a well-chosen book with chapters will keep them anticipating each evening of the visit. Just remember to keep their regular bedtime schedule so they don’t become cranky.
Finally, to keep peace in your family after your visit, ask the parents to provide you with rules (including safety guidelines) for skateboards, bicycles, trampolines, pools, etc.; television and video viewing; and telephone and computer usage. “But Poppa and Nonnie let me do it,” won’t win you any brownie points later with the parents.
Most importantly, let the children know that the parents’ house rules and schedules still apply. However, that doesn’t preclude you from offering some fun outings or special treats. Just don’t take it to excess, as one well-meaning grandfather did in allowing his seven grandchildren to share a birthday cake for breakfast.
Which brings us back to cake. If you’re well prepared, rest assured that babysitting the grandkids will, in fact, be a piece of cake. Good luck!