Help me avoid a babysitting blunder
July 1, 2008 7:46 PM   Subscribe

I am babysitting tomorrow for an 18 month old, and while I love kids, and have had plenty of experience caring for them, it's been a couple years since I took care of a baby. I am looking for babysitting advice so glaringly obvious, I would not be able to find it by googling (I tried).

Any general advice is good...the more it relates to a child that is close to 18 months in age, the better. Thanks in advance!
posted by pumpkin11 to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
When the toys lose their luster, don't be afraid to get out some pots and pans, your cell phone (turned off, of course), or a set of keys. These are baby gold.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:07 PM on July 1, 2008

Change the kid's diaper every few hours, even if they haven't pooped.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:10 PM on July 1, 2008

Ask if the kid's food needs to be cut into small pieces. Ask what he or she can eat -- that's young enough that the parents are probably still keeping an eye out for allergies.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:12 PM on July 1, 2008

Blowing bubbles, sprinkler fun?, don't leave him/her alone...that's a running age.
posted by melodykramer at 8:15 PM on July 1, 2008

Change the diaper immediately. This was not obvious to me.
posted by amtho at 8:18 PM on July 1, 2008

I have an 18 month old right now (as in, exactly 18 months old TODAY). My main bit of advice would be that 18 months old isn't a baby anymore. You can't really reason with them in the same way as an older child, but they can be very clear about what they want (for example they can usually express a pretty clear preference about what to eat). Also, here's your glaring advice: ask the parents. At 18 months old they probably have a pretty set routine as well as some "greatest hits" that are constant winners. Going outside / to the park is a pretty general winner across the board at that age, as is some form of stacking small objects / putting them in or on something.

Also ask the parents what the main words are - the parents are used to translating but the words might not sound right for you ("ba" for more, for example). If you know the language it'll go a long way.
posted by true at 8:23 PM on July 1, 2008

I have a 19 month old. Her current favorite activities are: being read to, blowing bubbles, watching and playing in a sprinkler, going for a walk or wagon ride, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, drawing with crayons, pretend playing with a doll, singing (Old MacDonald, BINGO -- the toddler you're watching probably has their own favorites), pulling all the reachable dishes, pots, pans, spoons and containers out of their proper locations. If this kid is anything like mine, she'll probably give you some clues as to what she wants to do, like bringing to you her favorite books to read or toys to play with.

Don't forget to give her food and water. And, of course, change the diaper.

(on preview, I agree with everything that true said, especially about asking the parents for a vocab lesson)
posted by ellenaim at 8:30 PM on July 1, 2008

Developmental milestones for the 18 month old. Most importantly, they can walk now, and talk somewhat.

Example of 18 month old humor (from my friend's son):

Friend: What's this? (holding up anything other than a potato)
Son: Po-taaaaaay-to! *mad giggling*
posted by booksherpa at 8:44 PM on July 1, 2008

Make sure you have the wipes, clean diaper, and plastic bag RIGHT THERE next to you BEFORE you take off the poopy diaper.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:47 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh gosh, my biggest problem with this age was definitely sudden bouts of separation anxiety. Several of the children I've sat for between 1.5-2.5 years have gone through periods of crazy, bang-their-head-against-the-front-door, break things, whimper for an hour time after their parents leave. Even ones who I had been with since they were teeny tiny, so they knew me very well. Fine one day, completely crazy the next. Ask the parents about it, and expect it regardless. How or how quickly they snap out of it depends on the kid and on their mood.
posted by phunniemee at 8:51 PM on July 1, 2008

Scooping water out of a huge bucket and pouring it into other containers (within the bucket) has been very successful, in my experience. Ladles, cups, pots and pans, all good. Bring a towel, though.
posted by lhall at 8:51 PM on July 1, 2008

Keep on eye on the kid at all times. 18 months just about the hardest age because they are mobile, curious and have absolutely no common sense. We had rotary phone on top of the dresser. I remember my son standing next to it, pulling on the cord and grinning - unaware that he was about to crush his skull by pulling a heavy object onto his own head.
posted by metahawk at 9:04 PM on July 1, 2008

When the toys lose their luster, don't be afraid to get out some pots and pans, your cell phone (turned off, of course), or a set of keys. These are baby gold.

It's all about distractions. Tupperware never fails. Problem with 18 month olds is that they have the attention span of an 18 month old.
posted by three blind mice at 11:20 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Loudmax's babysitting advice:
1. Don't let the child out of sight.
2. Make sure you understand what's involved for potty.
3. Even if you like playing with toddlers, you'll probably get bored of the kid before the kid gets bored of you. If you're babysitting for more than a few hours, figure out some way to deal with it without breaking #1, above.
posted by Loudmax at 11:53 PM on July 1, 2008

I'd say expect some crying. It sucks to be that ambitious but yet that helpless. Plus there's the fact that the young citizen's slaves (mom and dad) have abondoned him or her. Kids that age are still learning that mom and dad do come back eventually, but it's fucking traumatic for somebody who lives in the right now and doesn't even have a watch. I'd cry too. I probably did.

If this is an ad-hoc arrangement, the best thing you can do as a babysitter is spoil the child. A kid that age wants two things from you: attention and mobility. Give it both in abundance. Carry him or her around with you the entire time. Mom and dad can't afford to do that, and it probably wouldn't be good for the small human, but that's not your problem. Spoil the child: give it what it wants.

Communication is tricky. At 3/2 years, the subject has trained his or her slaves to understand the intracacies of his or her bellowing and cooing, mewling and puking. Untrained ears are blind to this (to mangle a metaphor). You're dealing with pointing and crying if you're lucky. More likely, it's a game of warmer/colder with the decibel level inversely proportional to the temperature (or proximity to whateverthefuck he or she really really wants).

Singing and baby-bouncing are your weapons. Hypnosis is a very powerful weapon, if used correctly. Babies love Pink Floyd. And Burl Ives.
posted by stubby phillips at 12:24 AM on July 2, 2008

And on the subject of not leaving the child alone, if you have to go to the bathroom, take the child with you.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:23 AM on July 2, 2008

Peekaboo is the game of choice for us. And animals. Any animal. We have a toy Tigger that we treat like it's a baby and pretend to feed it, pretend to put shoes on it... actually we DO put a pair of toddlertaff's shoes on Tigger.

Putting a silk scarf over her head and loudly asking.... "Where's toddlertaff? Has anyone seen Toddlertaff?" makes her collapse in to fits of giggles.

Another failsafe for lots of 18 months olds is a bubble bath.... naturally supervised at all times. Remembering to drain the water before you leave the room.... oh, and to close the door while waiting for it to fill, of course.... but if you ask the parents if the munchkin likes baths... that could be a good one if s/he melts down at any time.

And silly dancing. Not to kids' music. At the moment, we're loving the early Mills Brothers stuff. Like the Tiger Rag and Gloworm. The sillier the better in terms of faces you pulll and movements you make.

Grab a packet of baloons and blow up a couple and throw them around.

Oh... and sultanas are a wonderful snack... but don't forget that when you stand on them, they're disgusting to clean up.

As for nappy changing...we only change toddlertaff when she wakes up, is about to go to sleep... and if she makes any special deliveries in the mean time. Otherwise it's not worth the struggle. Modern disposable nappies don't need any more changing at this age.

We make sure toddlertaff has her sippycup of water at hand, at all times. Always suggesting more water... which she is quite capable of rejecting.

Make sure you prepare the bambino for naptime by talking about it before, and walking them through the steps before you do it. Naps sprung upon toddlers can go over badly.

You'll be cool.. it will all come back to you. But everyone who said they need constant supervision... is absolutley correct. Prepare yourself that you will achieve nothing in the time you have custody.

That's all I can think of. Best of luck.... come back afterwards and tell us how you went/improvised.
posted by taff at 2:58 AM on July 2, 2008

Oh... should add... 18month olds can generally open jars and bottles if the lid is not really tightly put on. Be warned!
posted by taff at 3:01 AM on July 2, 2008

Remember that even if they can't talk, they can still understand a lot. So tell them - in little words, admittedly - what you're going to do, and if it's a case of 'Let's go outside! Where are your shoes? No, really, where are your shoes? Here's one of them, where's the other one? Have I looked under the sofa already?' it's entirely possible that they will understand and be able to find the shoe. Likewise, a spirited attempt to open a packet of nappies may just be a desire to take objects out of a container, but walking up to you clutching a nappy can mean 'Change me now plz.'
posted by Lebannen at 4:08 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Find the sense of humor and milk it. With my boy (16 months), it's tickling, being swung by the arms, and yelling for the joy of it. Make sure you know what the child's favorite toy it - that will make life a lot easier, especially if you know ahead of time and show a deep interest in it too.

Ask what a tantrum looks like so you can separate it out from something serious.

Wash your hands like you have an OCD.
posted by plinth at 5:52 AM on July 2, 2008

Brush up on your "The Wheels on the Bus" skills. Kids love that song. Why? Where did it come from? Who sings "all day long" and who sings "all through the town"? It is a mystery...
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:20 AM on July 2, 2008

Are you babysitting in the child's home? If so, it is probably childproofed, which makes your gig a bajillion times easier.

If you're bringing a bag or purse with you to the babysitting location, put it on a high closet shelf or otherwise out of reach, especially if you carry any medication (prescription or OTC) with you.

I take my shoes off when I'm with little kids at home; the risk of mashing those tiny toes makes me cringe.

If the child does experience abandonment panic, don't you panic. Remain calm and let the child know it's okay, [Mom/Dad/Guardian] will be home in a while, it's okay. You might be able to distract the child with a game, but if not, let him/her cry it out, while reassuring them that everything is okay.

A general technique that has worked with my babysittees at that age: the "X or Y" gambit. "It's snacktime*! Would you like grapes or crackers?" works out better than "It's snacktime! What would you like?" ("I wanna cookie!")

If the answer to "X or Y?" is "Z!" patiently but firmly tell the child, "No, you can't have Z right now. Would you like X or Y?"

This technique can work with other options, too, often to surprising effect. Once I heard my sister tell her toddler son (prepared as recommended above by taff), "It's almost bedtime. Would you like to go to bed now, or play for five more minutes?" He loudly answered "NOW!" and scrambled up the stairs to his room.

It's good to hear about the bedtime/naptime routine in detail, but even better to see it if possible.

- As others have said, ask the parents about usual snacks: what are the choices, when do they usually have them, oh, and where the heck are they? It's frustrating to offer the child a fruit roll-up, only to rummage around fruitlessly in search of them.
- If you forget to ask the parents, ask the child; the kids usually know exactly where the good snacks are kept.
- You might ask the parents how much constitutes a snack, if you don't have a notion.
- As noted above, as parents whether they still cut up food into smaller pieces to prevent choking. Ask them to show you the proper size.
- Get a parent to show you where the sippy-cups are, and if there's any trick to opening them.

Labannen gives good advice above: you and the child are in this together, so team up!
posted by Elsa at 1:09 PM on July 2, 2008

Choking hazards!

Dont let the kid near any small object he could choke on. A toilet paper roll is a good tool they say. If it can fit through there it could be dangerous.
posted by beccaj at 7:35 PM on July 2, 2008

Hey everyone, in the off chance someone checks this, I thought I'd give an update: the babysitting went great!! (Did I mention I was doing this as a favor to my boss?? Hence my extreme cautiousness)

Great tips, she was a rather bossy child so I didn't get try many ( we had to play what SHE wanted to)

thanks again!
posted by pumpkin11 at 2:02 PM on July 3, 2008

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