Tips for “Babysitting" Pre-Teens
The pre-teen years, or “tween” years as they are often referred to, are exciting times in a child’s life. For one, they are growing up and getting ready to launch into that period of life that parents both anticipate and dread. Two, they are still learning not only in school but in other areas such as friendships and responsibility.
Some parents find themselves in a very tough spot when it comes to parenting pre-teens. One reason for this is that they are not quick to change their view of their growing offspring from “little child” to “almost adult.” It is important to understand this when someone asks you to “babysit” their “child” who actually is an active or creative 12-year-old.
It is also important to understand the pre-teen’s point of view, too. If you’re past this stage of development as I am, you probably remember being told that you’re “acting grown” or firmly put in your place when you expressed an opinion that was different. Being seen as a “child” can be frustrating to an almost adult. Pre-teens seek to exert themselves in some situations and prove themselves in others. That’s part of growing up.
Caring for pre-teens is not the same as caring for a baby, young child, or teenager. Understanding the characteristics of children at this age can help you to develop good relationships with those you care for and win their parents’ thanks. Here is some advice:
Get to know the pre-teen
Even though pre-teens, in general, share a certain set of characteristics, no two pre-teens are the same. Some pre-teens prefer to work or play alone while others want someone else to be involved. Some are more creative while others are studious.
It is important to get to know the pre-teen on his or her level. Ask them questions. Talk to them in a language they can understand. Find out what interests him or her and be willing to let his or her personality direct the activities you both engage in.
Treat the pre-teen like a person
He may only be 11 or 12, but he is a human being and should be treated as such. What he says, does, and thinks about is important and you should be careful to make him feel loved and valued. Your attitude and actions will help him or her to know that.
Many young children do not mean to be disrespectful; they simply want to be heard. For those whose parents are super busy or who do not have siblings or many friends, you can be that pair of ears the young child needs.
Be a friend and a role model
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Sabina Dosani writes in her book “Parenting Pre-Teens,” “You need to be a friendly authority, not a friend. This means that you are someone the pre-teen can talk to, play with, and take advice from, but you have boundaries and rules for his or her safety.”
Like any young child, pre-teens will test the limits and your patience but you have to strike that careful balance between friendship and authority figure. While you play games and do activities, you want to be in control of the situation and set an example for the young person to follow. Many pre-teens don’t need a boss as much as they need a role model.
Give them space
Pre-teens need boundaries, not rooftops. As they get ready to become teenagers, they are learning the joys of autonomy and independence. Don’t curb that or take it away from them. However, remember they are not fully mature and do not know as much as they think they might know.
As a sitter, it is okay to allow the pre-teen to explore in his independence especially if the parents have already approved. But you are still responsible for ensuring their safety and that of your own. A pre-teen may be allowed to play whenever he wants, but that is not in his best interest if he has homework to do.
Obey the parents’ rules
This one isn’t a hard one except for when pre-teens want you to bend the rules. It can seem easy to just do whatever the child wants because you want to be liked or because the child is a little strong-willed. But it is important to obey the rules established by the parents. In the long haul, the pre-teen will respect you more and learn to follow rules on his or her own.
Stephanie Felzenberg, editor of How to Be the Best Nanny Blog stated, “The parents need to instruct the sitter or nanny and the children clearly about the rules of the house. It’s essential that parents and caregivers work together to make the rules of the home consistent.”
Avoid being overbearing
Pre-teens don’t need a dictator. When I was 11 and 12, my mom had a 15-year-old girl “babysit” us while she was at work. I was best friends with the girl’s younger sister who was the same age as me. However, the babysitter was bossy and had a do-as-I-say type of attitude.
For me, that did not work because I am the oldest of seven children and had long been responsible for watching over my younger brothers and sisters, setting schedules, enforcing rules, helping with school work, and even cooking meals. So she and I did not get along too well and after two sitting sessions, she was out.
The point is, some pre-teens need a bit more oversight while others are able to self-manage and self-direct. Be careful to respect the difference. For those who need more oversight, look after them appropriately. For those who are advanced in their thinking and behavior, come alongside them and serve as a support system.
Sitting pre-teens can be a rewarding experience all the way around. The parents get cheap assistance and peace of mind. The pre-teens get a playmate, listener, or homework assistant. And the sitter gets to put his or her skills to work and make some money along the way.
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