Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Babysitting Lessons

The word "babysitter" is a misnomer. The first time a young person takes on any simple childcare duties, it is probably not with an infant, and rarely involves sitting. Typically, playing with a child--getting to know them, the family and routines--is a gradual process. With age and experience come more responsibilities. A reliable and enthusiastic babysitter is treasured forever by children and parents.

My 14-year-old daughter is starting to do some regular sitting, and is learning much about young children. Our neighbor’s young girls love costumes, dramatic play and doing crafts. An energetic little boy celebrates his potty training success while running around buck naked. Together, they run a successful lemonade stand on a hot afternoon. 

Edina High School offers a child psychology class that attempts to teach parental responsibility with the "pretend baby" exercise. To simulate infant care, each student takes home a baby doll for a night. It must be under 24/7 watch and handled with kid gloves. No tossing the doll in the back hall with the backpack, or ignoring it while you go to the movies with friends. There is an electronic device in the doll that goes off every three hours during the night as a wake-up feeding cry. The student must get up and give the "baby" attention.  As teenagers tend to be egocentric, the lesson is quick about the sacrifices and responsibilities of having a child. This experience might also drive the point home about avoiding teenage pregnancy.
I have run into a couple of college students this summer who are nannies. “I can’t believe how much work it is.” “I am exhausted after just twenty hours a week.” I smile empathetically and nod. 

On a recent walk with two friends, as we have college students now, we constructed lesson plans of our own. “Don’t give those teenagers a baby doll…give them a bratty 13-year-old who slams their door, tells you they hate you, and won’t pick up their room.”  I chime in: “How about a three-year-old who has a meltdown at the grocery store, kicking and screaming as others glare at you?” My other friend says: "Or the baby who doesn’t sleep through the night for six months.”  “Or the seven year old who throws up on the airplane.”  We laugh hard. But seriously, we think babysitting teaches great life lessons about the awesome task of raising children. We know we aren’t ready to be grandparents for a good long while. 

Barb Rothmeier

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