Baby Sitters and an Emergency–Guiding the Response

Baby-sitting is about safety.

The usual references given for a new babysitter—dependability, attentiveness to the child—are a good start. But it is also important to consider responses to household emergencies and to take the opportunity to provide additional guidance if appropriate.

Unfortunately, the subject of emergencies is often dismissed with the comment that the important telephone numbers are on the refrigerator door. Dependability and attentiveness may be sufficient indicators of appropriate action under stressful conditions, but considering the consequences, it is worth a few minutes to check this out.

The first step, as unpleasant as it is, is to consider some of these events—a fire breaks out in the kitchen, a child slips and falls down the stairs, a stranger pounds on the door. Then, decide upon your recommended responses to the scenarios. This exercise really helps you to understand what a baby sitter may have to do.

The second step is to evaluate the current emergency skills of the baby sitter. This evaluation process is not a test, but a discussion that is simple to understand and is open ended. Probe a scenario in a conversational way. Gently tease out details if necessary. The specific details provide a better clue as to the level of understanding. Gauge the response in terms of your preferences above.

For example, to the question: “What would you do if there was a fire in the kitchen?” The response to “Call the Fire Department.” may not be satisfactory. A more appropriate response may be for the sitter to gather up the children, leave the house, and then call the fire department.

Conversations like these allow the sitter to demonstrate rather than describe their level of competence.

The third step is to gently compare your recommended behaviors with the sitter’s responses. If you do this for a couple of scenarios, you will have a better idea of the capabilities. It is at this time that some instructions can be given.

A few minutes spent with this exercise can go a long way. It is not necessary to consider more than a scenario or two. No one can predict what, if anything will happen. It is the process of working together to clarify competence and improve response skills that has the most value. These skills can transfer to better responses to other situations.

Then have a good night out.


Generalization: The three steps describe above are essentially the same as those for delegating responsibility. The delegation of responsibility was also discussed for a child in the post “Deciding to let a child travel alone”.

The major points are the same:

Understand the requirements of the assignment

Evaluate competence required to do these assignments

Formulate specific probes so that competence is demonstrated rather than described.

Compare the requirements to the competence. Delegate or provide additional guidance. Follow-up with additional training if necessary.


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