Caring for Children When
You're Not a Parent

Young Woman and Little Girl on the Beach

At one point or another, you may find yourself caring for children who are not yours.  You may be an aunt or uncle, a good friend, a nanny or babysitter, or a good Samaritan who saw a parent in need and offered to help.

Though parents are ultimately responsible for the care, correction, and direction of their children, you have been delegated for an agreed-upon period of time to assist them in this responsibility.  In this role, there are some things you always do and some things you never do.

Always Do

  • Understand the parameters regarding your caretaker role.  Communicate your boundaries with parents and children.  Give parents "what if's" and examples to work for clear communication.
  • Be firm and follow through with promises and setting limits.
  • Be fair and consistent.  Consequences follow inappropriate actions for every child in your charge.  Don't play favorites.
  • Listen!  Beware of tattling.
  • Be Understanding.  Being away from parents is unsettling for children.  Taking time to chat with them is not only fun, and many times enlightening, but establishes trust between you and the child.
  • Have lots of fun!  Your upbeat personality is what children want to be around.  Encourage positive attitudes by being an example of one.
  • Because you don’t ever have all of the facts about a particular child or situation, always reference the desired outcomes of kindness, courtesy, respect for others.

Never Do

  • Hit a child.
  • Yell or shout at a child.
  • Threaten or nag.
  • Use profanity or abusive language.

When Children Come to Visit

Having children visit your home for a weekend, or a week, can be a nice bonding experience.  But, as with all children, structure is a necessity. 

Make sure the house rules are explained when you're caring for children who are visiting.  This is the case whether or not their parents are staying, too.  Just make sure that everyone plays by the same rules, even though exceptions are sometimes needed.

Scheduling activities provides expectation as well as structure.  Share your plan with your young visitors so they know what's in store.  It may also provide an opportunity to adjust your plans if you get a less than excited reaction.

Caring for Children When Parents are Present

Sometimes mom and dad need a break, or are busy, but are still nearby.  If you've been asked to look out for their child, try engaging in an activity that will take focus away from the parents and provide a distraction for the child.

If a need for correction or discipline arises, it's best to defer to a parent unless you have been specifically instructed to take action in this area.  When a child is about to cause harm to himself or another, or when property is about to be damaged, it may be wise to intervene immediately.  Encourage a different action.  For example, "Sally, come and look at this . . ." may offer enough of a distraction that Sally stops her negative behavior and is now open to positive behavior.

Whether or not parents are present, if a child is about to cause harm or be harmed, especially if he is on your property, you have a right to put a stop to it.

Your Reward

Caring for children creates many positive experiences for you and them.  And if you spend a significant amount of time with them, they are bound to learn something from you.

At some point, a child will recall a memory or lesson learned that relates directly to you.  It may be a song you sang, a repeated act of kindness, an activity like tying shoes or coloring within the lines.  You've left your mark on this child's life by giving her something she can remember you by. 

Memories like these are worth turning off the television, putting your phone away, and giving a child your undivided attention.

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