How can I better understand my child’s temperament?
Some children are “easy.” They are predictable, calm, and approach most new experiences in a positive way. Other children are more difficult, not able to manage their emotional experiences and expression with ease. When a child’s personality doesn’t quite fit or match that of other family members, it can be a challenge for everyone. Of course no child is one way all the time, but each has his own usual type.
The ease with which a child adjusts to his environment is strongly influenced by his temperament – adaptability and emotional style. For the most part, temperament is an innate quality of the child, one with which he is born. It is somewhat modified (particularly in the early years of life) by his experiences and interactions with other people, with his environment and by his health.
By the time a child has reached the school years, his temperament is well defined and quite apparent to those who know him. It is not something that is likely to change much in the future. These innate characteristics have nothing to do with your own parenting skills. Nevertheless, the behavioral adjustment of a school-age child depends a lot upon the interaction between his temperament and yours, and how others respond to him – how comfortably he fits in with his environment and with the people around him.
Characteristics of temperament
By being aware of some of the characteristics of temperament, you can better understand your child, appreciate his uniqueness, and deal with problems of poor “fit” that may lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.
There are at least nine major characteristics that make up temperament.
Activity level: the level of physical activity, motion, restlessness or fidgety behavior that a child demonstrates in daily activities (and which also may affect sleep). Rhythmicity or regularity: the presence or absence of a regular pattern for basic physical functions such as appetite, sleep and bowel habits.
Approach and withdrawal: the way a child initially responds to a new stimulus (rapid and bold or slow and hesitant), whether it be people, situations, places, foods, changes in routines or other transitions.
Adaptability: the degree of ease or difficulty with which a child adjusts to change or a new situation, and how well the youngster can modify his reaction.
Intensity: the energy level with which a child responds to a situation, whether positive or negative.
Mood: the mood, positive or negative, or degree of pleasantness or unfriendliness in a child’s words and behaviors.
Attention span: the ability to concentrate or stay with a task, with or without distraction.
Distractibility: the ease with which a child can be distracted from a task by environmental (usually visual or auditory) stimuli.
Sensory threshold: the amount of stimulation required for a child to respond. Some children respond to the slightest stimulation, and others require intense amounts.
How temperament affects children and their parents
Every child has a different pattern of the nine temperament characteristics. Many, but not all, children tend to fall into one of three broad and somewhat loosely defined categories: easy, slow to warm up or shy, or difficult or challenging. These labels are a useful shorthand, but none offers a complete picture of a child. Many parents find it more useful to think about their child in terms of the nine temperament traits.
The easy child responds to the world around him in an easy manner. His mood is positive, and he is mildly to moderately intense. He adapts easily to new schools and people. When encountering a frustrating situation, he usually does so with relatively little anxiety. His parents probably describe him as a “joy to be around.” About 40 percent of children fall into this category.
Another temperamental profile may reveal a somewhat slow-to-warm-up or shy child who tends to have moods of mild intensity, usually, but not always negative. He adapts slowly to unfamiliar surroundings and people, is hesitant and shy when making new friends, and tends to withdraw when encountering new people and circumstances. Upon confronting a new situation, he is more likely to have problems with anxiety, physical symptoms or separation. Over time, however, he will become more accepting of new people and situations once he becomes more familiar with them.
The difficult or challenging child tends to react to the world negatively and intensely. As an infant he may have been categorized as a fussy baby. As a young child he may have been prone to temper tantrums or was hard to please. He may still occasionally be explosive, stubborn, and intense, and he may adapt poorly to new situations. Some children with difficult temperaments may have trouble adjusting at school, and their teachers may complain of problems in the classroom or on the playground. When children have difficult temperaments, they usually have more behavioral problems and cause more strain on the mother and family.
It is important to distinguish a difficult temperament from other problems. For instance, recurrent or chronic illnesses, or emotional and physical stresses, can cause behavioral difficulties that are really not a problem with temperament at all.
How can we help our child develop a healthy sense of self-esteem?
By definition, self-esteem is the way in which an individual perceives herself-in other words, her own thoughts and feelings about herself and her ability to achieve in ways that are important to her. This self-esteem is shaped not only by a child’s own perceptions and expectations, but also by the perceptions and expectations of significant people in her life-how she is thought of and treated by parents, teachers and friends. The closer her perceived self (how she sees herself) comes to her ideal self (how she would like to be), the higher her self-esteem.
For healthy self-esteem, children need to develop or acquire some or all of the following characteristics:
A sense of security.
Your child must feel secure about herself and her future. (“What will become of me?”)
A sense of belonging.
Your youngster needs to feel accepted and loved by others, beginning with the family and then extending to groups such as friends, schoolmates, sports teams, a church or temple and even a neighborhood or community. Without this acceptance or group identity, she may feel rejected, lonely, and adrift without a “home,” “family” or “group.”
A sense of purpose.
Your child should have goals that give her purpose and direction and an avenue for channeling her energy toward achievement and self-expression. If she lacks a sense of purpose, she may feel bored, aimless, even resentful at being pushed in certain directions by you or others.
A sense of personal competence and pride.
Your child should feel confident in her ability to meet the challenges in her life. This sense of personal power evolves from having successful life experiences in solving problems independently, being creative and getting results for her efforts. Setting appropriate expectations, not too low and not too high, is critical to developing competence and confidence. If you are overprotecting her, and if she is too dependent on you, or if expectations are so high she never succeeds, she may feel powerless and incapable of controlling the circumstances in her life.
A sense of trust.
Your child needs to feel trust in you and in herself. Toward this goal, you should keep promises, be supportive and give your child opportunities to be trustworthy. This means believing your child, and treating her as an honest person.
A sense of responsibility.
Give your child a chance to show what she is capable of doing. Allow her to take on tasks without being checked on all the time. This shows trust on your part, a sort of “letting go” with a sense of faith.
A sense of contribution.
Your child will develop a sense of importance and commitment if you give her opportunities to participate and contribute in a meaningful way to an activity. Let her know that she really counts.
A sense of making real choices and decisions.
Your child will feel empowered and in control of events when she is able to make or influence decisions that she considers important. These choices and decisions need to be appropriate for her age and abilities, and for the family’s values.
A sense of self-discipline and self-control.
As your child is striving to achieve and gain more independence, she needs and wants to feel that she can make it on her own. Once you give her expectations, guidelines, and opportunities in which to test herself, she can reflect, reason, problem-solve and consider the consequences of the actions she may choose. This kind of self-awareness is critical for her future growth.
A sense of encouragement, support and reward.
Not only does your child need to achieve, but she also needs positive feedback and recognition – a real message that she is doing well, pleasing others and “making it.” Encourage and praise her, not only for achieving a set goal but also for her efforts, and for even small increments of change and improvement. (“I like the way you waited for your turn,” “Good try; you’re working harder,” “Good girl!”) Give her feedback as soon as possible to reinforce her self-esteem and to help her connect your comments to the activity involved.
A sense of accepting mistakes and failure.
Your child needs to feel comfortable, not defeated, when she makes mistakes or fails. Explain that these hurdles or setbacks are a normal part of living and learning, and that she can learn or benefit from them. Let your supportive, constructive feedback and your recognition of her effort overpower any sense of failure, guilt, or shame she might be feeling, giving her renewed motivation and hope. Again, make your feedback specific (“If you throw the ball like this, it might help”) and not negative and personal (“You are so clumsy,” “You’ll never make it”).
A sense of family self-esteem.
Your child’s self-esteem initially develops within the family and thus is influenced greatly by the feelings and perceptions that a family has of itself. Some of the preceding comments apply to the family in building its self-esteem. Also, bear in mind that family pride is essential to self-esteem and can be nourished and maintained in many ways, including participation or involvement in community activities, tracing a family’s heritage and ancestors, or caring for extended family members. Families fare better when members focus on each other’s strengths, avoid excessive criticism and stick up for one another outside the family setting. Family members believe in and trust each other, respect their individual differences and show their affection for each other. They make time for being together, whether to share holidays, special events or just to have fun.
Some children have a gender identity that is different from their gender assigned at birth, and many have interests and hobbies that may align with the other gender.
Some children, as our policy statement explains, do not identify with either gender. They may feel like they are somewhere in between or have no gender. It is natural for parents to ask if it is “just a phase.” But, there is no easy answer.
Gender diverse: An umbrella term to describe an ever-evolving array of labels people may apply when their gender identity, expression, or even perception does not conform to the norms and stereotypes others expect.
Gender identity: One’s internal sense of who one is, based on an interaction of biological traits, developmental influences, and environmental conditions. This may be male, female, somewhere in between, a combination of both or neither. Self-recognition of gender identity develops over time, much the same way a child’s physical body does.
Sexual orientation: One’s sexual identity as it relates to who someone falls in love with or is attracted to. A person who is transgender still identifies as straight, gay, bisexual or something else. Like gender identity, an individual’s physical and emotional attraction to a member of the same or the opposite sex cannot be changed and is very difficult to predict early in childhood.
Transgender: Usually used when gender diverse traits remain persistent, consistent, and insistent over time.
Accepting your child’s gender-diverse identity
Research suggests that gender is something we are born with; it can’t be changed by any interventions. It is critically important that children feel loved and accepted for who they are.
When disclosing their gender diverse identity, some kids might expect immediate acceptance and understanding. However, there is evidence that family members go through their own process of becoming more comfortable and understanding of a child’s gender identity, thoughts and feelings. One model suggests the process resembles the stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance.
Just as gender diverse children do best when their feelings are explored and validated, some parents may need their own emotional supports.They may also have many questions along their child’s journey.
What parents can do
When your child discloses their identity to you, respond in an affirming, supportive way. Understand that although gender identity is not able to be changed, it often is revealed over time as people discover more about themselves.
Accept and love your child as they are. Try to understand what they are feeling and experiencing. Even if there are disagreements, they will need your support and validation to develop into healthy teens and adults.
Stand up for your child when they are mistreated. Do not minimize the social pressure or bullying your child may be facing.
Make it clear that slurs or jokes based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation are not tolerated. Express your disapproval of these types of jokes or slurs when you encounter them in the community or media.
Be on the look out for danger signs that may indicate a need for mental health support, such as anxiety, insecurity, depression, low self-esteem and any emotional problems in your child and others who may not have a source of support otherwise.
Connect your child with LGBTQ organizations, resources and events. It is important for them to know they are not alone.
Celebrate diversity in all forms. Provide access to a variety of books, movies and materials—including those that positively represent gender diverse individuals. Point out LGBTQ celebrities and role models who stand up for the LGBTQ community, and people in general who demonstrate bravery in the face of social stigma.
Support your child’s self-expression. Engage in conversations with them around their choices of clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, friends and room decorations.
Reach out for education, resources and support if you feel the need to deepen your own understanding of LGBTQ youth experiences.
Gender affirmative care
Gender affirmative care is based on the belief that all children benefit from love and support. The goal of gender affirmative care is not treatment; it is to listen to a child and, with the help of parents and families, build understanding.
Pediatricians provide gender affirmative care by creating a safe environment in which complicated emotions, questions and concerns related to gender can be appreciated and explored. Gender affirmative care is most effective in a collaborative system with access to medical, mental health and social services, including specific resources for parents and families.
Mental health support for gender-diverse kids
Support or rejection ultimately has little influence on the gender identity of youth; however, it may strongly affect young person’s ability to openly share or discuss concerns about their identity and feelings. Gender-diverse identities and expressions are not mental disorders, but suppressing gender concerns can harm a child’s emotional health and development and possibly contribute to high rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
A large proportion of teenage suicide attempts are linked to issues of gender and sexuality, particularly feelings of rejection. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals unfortunately attempt suicide during their lifetime.
As a parent, even when you struggle to understand and may not see eye-to-eye, your most important role is to offer understanding, respect and unconditional love for your child. This builds trust and puts you in a better position to help them through difficult times. Research has shown that if a transgender teen has even just one supportive person their life, it greatly reduces their risk of suicide.
Transgender and gender-diverse children—like all children—need support, love and care from family, school and society. When supported and loved as they grow and develop, kids mature into happy and healthy adults. Pediatricians stand ready to assist in the healthy development of transgender and gender-diverse children.
How I Raised My Kids With Inclusiveness & Resilience in Mind
By Nancy Netherland
I have two teenagers. One identifies as ‘non-binary’; and sometimes as ‘I don’t know’; uses the pronouns she/they/them; has a girlfriend and identifies their sexual orientation as queer. The other identifies as she/her and pansexual.
When I had children, I didn’t know if they would be CIS-gendered, non-binary or trans, nor did I know what their sexual orientation would be. But my training as a therapist and the time I spent working in the early days of the AIDS pandemic had me well aware of elevated risk factors for children and young people who identify as LGBTQ+.
I knew that homophobia and transphobia could result in disturbing and dangerous outcomes. For example, I knew that nearly half of LGBTQ+ kids and young people seriously considered suicide in the past year, and that LGBTQ+ youth of color report higher rates of suicide attempts than their white peers.
But I also knew that LGBTQ+ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support.
So, knowing all this, I consciously tried to work resiliency and protective factors into how I parented from the time my kids were infants. Here are some guideposts that have served me well as a parent of non-gender conforming and queer children:
Ask, don’t assume. Since family acceptance is such a huge factor in protecting the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ kids, I decided not to assume anything about my children’s gender identity and sexual orientation. When my oldest child told me about their first crush in middle-school, I made sure to ask if the person was a girl, boy, trans or non-binary. I saw the relief on my child’s face when I said “girl” and she said “that one.” I ask my kids their preferred pronouns, as well as their permission before sharing their pronouns outside of our immediate family.
Seek positive role models. Our community and inner circle include people who identify as gay/queer, trans and non-binary.I also commit to finding developmentally appropriate ways to integrate LGBTQ+ literature, role models, film, cultural events and celebrations into our lives. My children and I have joined Pride parades in support of my sibling who is non-binary and queer. Our family’s social media feeds include LGBTQ+ influencers, and we stream and watch shows together featuring queer and trans youth and their families.
Prioritize inclusion. I consciously use language and, when the kids were young, found stories that were inclusive: mommies who married mommies, kids born girls who realized they were really boys, and people who were both male and female. Our bookshelves include graphic novels and books detailing the contributions of LGBTQ+ people across the globe and history. If a form only has two genders on it – I change the form.
Enlist the support of trusted adults. I have made it a point to ensure my children’s medical providers and other trusted adults are inclusive and familiar with serving LGBTQ+ youth. My oldest child has a therapist who specializes in working with youth who are not CIS-gendered and identify as LGBTQ+. Our refrigerator has a list of youth help lines and mental health programs that my kids can call if needed. On that list are a bunch of LGBTQ+ organization and resources.
Ask for help. I make mistakes (still working on not misgendering) and I have a lot to learn. So, I call upon friends and family who grew up queer and non-gender conforming to support my children and my parenting. I have also reached out to our pediatricians for mental health and wellness resources. I look for and use online resources specifically for parents of LGBTQ+ kids.
I know that I cannot protect my children from the discrimination that is directed towards them and all people who are LGBTQ+, but I can make sure they feel accepted and seen in our home, and that they are connected with as many resources as possible to help them navigate health futures.
Nancy Netherland is a mother and advocate for her two daughters, both former foster children born, and living, with chronic medical complexities. Nancy serves advisory panels for the State of California’s Medicaid Children’s Health Advisory Panel , the UCSF Children & Adolescent Psychiatry Portal , the California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal Workgroup for Foster Youth and Families, and the family advisory councils at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and Oakland. Nancy founded Kids and Caregivers, a nonprofit supporting caregivers of children living with chronic and complex illnesses . She is also Director of Parent Engagement for the California Children’s Trust.
When to get help
If your child is struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety, isolation or other emotional concerns, they may need to see a mental health professional who can offer additional support. If your child mentions any suicidal thinking, bring it to the attention of your pediatrician or mental health professional right away.
Ask your pediatrician if a telehealth visit by phone or video call is an option. Your child may feel more comfortable talking to their doctor from home. For teens, the telehealth visit should take place in as private of a place as possible so they can have a one-on-one conversation with the doctor. You can make a plan with the doctor about talking before or after they talk to your teen privately. If it’s a video call, and your child or teen would prefer to have the camera off, they can ask their doctor if that is okay. Telehealth visits can also be used for follow-up visits to check on your child’s progress.
Talk with your pediatrician early & often
Children as young as preschool-age may start having difficult feelings and concerns about their bodies, feelings and relationships. It is important to recognize that cross-gender preferences and play is a normal part of exploring gender and relationships for children regardless of their future gender identity. Routine conversations about gender creates an environment of support and reassurance so that children feel safe bringing up questions and concerns. It is also good practice for continuing these discussions at home.
The best approach, for parents or pediatricians, is to nonjudgmentally ask questions that allow the child to talk about their experience and feelings before applying any labels or assumptions. For more information or help finding a support group for yourself or your child, please talk with your pediatrician.
There are many ways parents can promote healthy gender development in children. It helps to understand gender identity and how it forms.
What’s the difference between gender and sex?
Being a boy or a girl, for most children, is something that feels very natural. At birth, babies are assigned male or female based on physical characteristics. This refers to the “sex”or “assigned gender” of the child. Meanwhile, “gender identity” refers to an internal sense people have of who they are that comes from an interaction of biological traits, developmental influences, and environmental conditions. This may be male, female, somewhere in between, a combination of both or neither.
Self-recognition of gender identity develops over time, much the same way a child’s physical body does. Most children’s asserted gender identity aligns with their assigned gender (sex). However, for some children, the match between their assigned gender and gender identity is not so clear.
How does gender identity develop in children?
Gender identity typically develops in stages:
Around age two: Children become conscious of the physical differences between boys and girls.
Before their third birthday: Most children can easily label themselves as either a boy or a girl.
By age four: Most children have a stable sense of their gender identity.
During this same time of life, children learn gender role behavior—that is, doing “things that boys do” or “things that girls do.” However, cross-gender preferences and play are a normal part of gender development and exploration regardless of their future gender identity.
The point is that all children tend to develop a clearer view of themselves and their gender over time. At any point, research suggests that children who assert a gender-diverse identity know their gender as clearly and consistently as their developmentally matched peers and benefit from the same level of support, love and social acceptance.
What parents can do:
All children need the opportunity to explore different gender roles and different styles of play. Parents can make sure their young child’s environment reflects diversity in gender roles and encourages opportunities for everyone. Some ideas would be to offer:
Children’s books or puzzles showing men and women in non-stereotypical and diverse gender roles (stay-at-home dads, working moms, male nurses and female police officers, for example).
A wide range of toys for your child to choose from, including baby dolls, toy vehicles, action figures, blocks, etc.
By age 6, most children spend most of their playtime with members of their own sex and may gravitate towards sports and other activities that are associated with their gender. It is important to allow children to make choices regarding friend groups, sports and other activities they get involved in. It is also a good idea to check in with your child to learn about their preferences and to make sure they feel included without teasing or bullying.
How do children typically express their gender identity?
In addition to their choices of toys, games, and sports, children typically express their gender identity in the following ways:
Clothing or hairstyle
Preferred name or nickname
Social behavior that reflects varying degrees of aggression, dominance, dependency and gentleness.
Manner and style of behavior and physical gestures and other nonverbal actions identified as masculine or feminine.
Social relationships, including the gender of friends, and the people they decide to imitate.
While a child’s gender-specific behavior (i.e. gender expression) at any time seems to be influenced by exposure to stereotypes and their identification with the people in their lives, the internal sense of being a girl, boy, in between or something else (i.e. gender identity) cannot be changed.
How have gender stereotypes changed over time?
Our expectations of “what girls do” and “what boys do” have changed. Many female athletes excel at their sports. Girls increasingly pursue subjects traditionally thought of as “masculine.” There are many famous male chefs, artists, and musicians―fields traditionally thought of as “feminine.” Over time, society has recognized that stereotypes of “masculine” and “feminine” activities and behaviors are inaccurate and limiting to a child’s development. Such interests also do not determine or influence one’s gender identity. Furthermore, our ability to predict who a child is based on early preferences is not very accurate and may be harmful if it leads to shame or attempts at suppressing their skills, talents and genuine self.
Still, when a child’s interests and abilities are different from what society expects, they may be subjected to discrimination and bullying. It is natural for parents to have gender-based expectations for their children and to want to protect them from criticism and exclusion. Instead of pushing children to conform to these pressures and to limit themselves, parents can play an important role in advocating for safe spaces where their children can feel comfortable and good about themselves.
If your child doesn’t excel in sports or even have an interest in them, for example, there will still be many other opportunities and areas in which they can thrive. Regardless of gender identity, each child has their own strengths that may not always conform to society’s or your own expectations, but they will still be a source of current and future success.
Gender development is a normal process for all children. Some children will exhibit variations―similar to all areas of human health and behavior. However, all children need support, love and care from family, school and society, which fosters growth into happy and healthy adults.
Help your child navigate his social world by equipping him with the skills he needs to choose friends wisely.
I came to the realization this past year that the days of handpicking my son’s friends are officially over. As a kindergartner, Christian spent the better part of each weekday with 16 other kids, 14 of whom I had never met.
Being a high-energy kid himself, Christian was drawn to the other high-energy kids in class, some of whom didn’t always choose the best way to express that energy. After watching these little guys in action, I found myself wondering what I could do to help Christian choose some other friends that would bring out the best in him, rather than the worst. By reading up on the subject, discussing it with my pediatrician, and talking with parents who’ve already navigated these waters before, I’ve discovered there are some ways parents can help encourage healthier relationships in their children’s lives.
The best advice I received was to approach teaching Christian how to recognize a good friend, just as I would teach him about bike safety or stranger danger or any other important subject dealing with his health, safety, and well being. At 6, Christian is just beginning to learn how to build a relationship. The more I can guide him in this process, the better off he’ll be. Talk with your child often about how friends should treat one another. Explain that good friends respect others, follow the rules, and help those in need. The more children know about what makes a good friend, the easier it will be for them to recognize one when they meet that child — and to be one himself.
As you strive to teach your child about healthy friendships, don’t forget to model them in your own life. Demonstrating good relationships skills with your spouse or partner, and taking time to nurture close friendships with others, is as important as simply talking about these skills if not more so.
“Children learn how to relate to people outside of their family from relationships within the family,” explains Ed Schor, M.D., FAAP, and editor of Caring for Your School-Age Child, Ages 5 to 12. “One would hope that the parents would be friends and would get along well, compromise, etc. Children learn from those exchanges.”
While it’s important to talk about what makes a good friend, it’s also good to identify which behaviors are not welcome. Do not focus on specific children and why they are “bad” and others are “good.” Instead, explain the values that you live by in your home, such as positive language, respect for others, sharing, and fair play. It could be as simple as saying, “In our house, we have certain rules that we follow. When someone comes to visit and refuses to follow those rules, he is not showing respect, and that makes everyone sad.” You can balance that by saying, “We have so much more fun when we spend time with friends who do follow the rules.”
To encourage healthy relationships, create opportunities for your child to play with kids who you think have a positive influence on her. Set up play dates at your house where you can observe the children playing together, and then encourage repeat dates with the kids that you feel are good role models for your child.
“You ought to play an active role in choosing your children’s friends. Who better to do this than the parents?” notes Schor. “Know your children’s friends, observe what’s going on, and see if they demonstrate the values you desire.”
If possible, choose to live in a neighborhood with high-quality schools. An Ohio State University study found a direct correlation between school quality and the types of kids that adolescents choose as friends. Kids in better schools tend to choose friends with more “prosocial” characteristics, such as good grades, good attendance, and involvement in extracurricular activities.
Finally, focus on your relationship with your child. The Ohio State study found that teens are more likely to report positive friendships when they have a good relationship with their parents. (A “good relationship” was defined as one in which the child and parents get involved in activities together, talk frequently, and express affection for one another.)
The more involved you are in your child’s life, the more opportunity you have to help your child develop friendships that can stand the test of time.
The Bully Factor
No matter how many good friends your child has, there may still be times when he finds himself the target of a bully. Talk with him about bullying and share these five tips.
Walk away: Bullies are generally looking for a reaction from those they target. When they don’t get one, they’re likely to move on.
Speak up: If a bully keeps on bullying, stand tall, look him square in the eye, and say in a clear, loud voice, “I don’t like what you’re doing. Please stop it now.”
Ask for help: Talk to a trusted adult about the problem. A teacher or parent can help make the situation better.
Find good friends: A bully is only one person. Concentrate on making strong friendships with people who make you feel good.
Keep having fun: Don’t let a bully stop you from being part of the activities you enjoy.
Have your parents or guardians help you decide if you are ready to take on this important job. With their help, you should think about what you will and won’t be able to handle as a babysitter. For example, you may decide to only watch children ages 3 and up or to only work on weekends.
Are you mature enough to handle this job? A person must be at least a young adult (12–14 years old) to take on the responsibility of watching young children, and mature enough to handle common emergencies.
How many children can you handle at one time? A new sitter should start with one child or even start as a mother’s helper. A more experienced sitter may handle several children of similar age. It takes a very experienced sitter to handle a mixed age group of children or more than three children at once. Watching too many children can challenge even a very experienced older teen sitter.
Can you handle babies and young children? Younger teens should not sit for children younger than 6 months. Toddlers can also be challenging. Teens should only accept sitting for one child at a time if the child is three or younger.
Have you been trained in how to care for small children? Have you received first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training from a nationally recognized organization? Discuss with parents or guardians the time frame during which they want you to watch their children, and whether it is proper. Leaving a young child in your care for a few hours is acceptable, but all day or a very late night may not be.
Successful sitters have these qualities. Are you . . . ?
And do you like children?
Be Prepared to Answer Questions
Responsible parents or guardians will interview sitters before hiring them. They want to feel confident that you can do the job.
Expect to be asked the following types of questions:
Experience: How much babysitting have you done? Have you cared for other children the same age as theirs? Do you understand the importance of constantly supervising children?
Training: What training do you have in babysitting and first aid? Do you know what to do in an emergency?
References: Can you provide names and phone numbers of families who have hired you before? Are you responsible and trustworthy?
Availability: When can you sit? How late can you sit? What ages of children can you sit for?
Pay: Parents or guardians may ask you what you charge. You should be prepared to tell them a rate per hour that is similar to what other sitters are being paid. You need to determine what sitters are getting paid per hour in your neighborhood. Ask friends who sit and adults who hire sitters what a typical rate is. If the parents or guardians do not ask what you charge, you may politely ask them what they will be paying per hour. It is OK for you to ask how much they will pay you.
Be a Good Guest!
Remember that you are an invited guest in the house.
The following rules are good to remember when sitting:
Only eat food if you have been given permission to do so. If you are welcome to eat, make sure to clean up and wash any dishes when you are done.
Avoid “exploring” another person’s home, such as opening closets or drawers or looking through personal belongings.
Avoid having friends visit you while you are sitting. This way your attention can always be on the child or children.
Avoid personal calls or texts. The phone should be kept available for incoming calls from the child’s parents or guardians.
Parents of gradeschoolers have a lot to think about. Trying to encourage healthy living and helping your child develop a positive self-image all while going through puberty can have its challenges. This section will arm you with the information you need along the way.