By Erica Patino
Babysitting kids with learning and attention issues can sometimes be tricky. It will help the sitter if you’re upfront about your child’s issues and suggest strategies that can help.
Just before you’re dashing out the door for the evening is not the best time to share a lot of important details with a babysitter. This is especially true if your child has learning and attention issues that affect his behavior. If possible, ask the babysitter to visit the day before or to come early the day you need her. This way, you won’t have to rush through the conversation and can give the sitter time to ask questions.
Babysitters don’t need to know the complex terms you might hear from your child’s school. What’s more helpful for a babysitter is being told the behaviors she might see from your child that she wouldn’t expect from other kids. If your child has ADHD, you might say, “Tim has trouble staying organized so he may not remember to put things back where he found them. Or he might start his homework and then forget to finish it.” Encourage the babysitter to ask questions about these behaviors.
It’s good to share positives about your child. After all, if the babysitter only hears negative things, she might not want to babysit anymore! Be sure to mention some of your child’s strengths and interests. You might say, “You may need to remind Tim to finish his homework and give him a heads-up before you move on to another activity. But he’s a fun kid who loves playing basketball. I’m sure it would be a treat for him if you practice free throws with him.”
It’s natural for kids to see what they can get away with when there’s a new babysitter. The babysitter may not be sure what to do if your child ignores instructions or starts to get upset. Explain that it’s better for your child if the sitter can be flexible, yet also firm. Suggest different strategies. “If Tim doesn't want to stop playing basketball, you might give him a two-minute warning. Then you can tell him he has one more shot before it’s time to go in.”
Kids with learning and attention issues do well with routine. Be clear with the babysitter about your child’s routine. Write it down so the babysitter can refer to it and show it to your child. The first time or two with a new babysitter, you might want to have the babysitter come when you won’t be far from home. That way you can come home quickly if needed. You may also want to suggest some educational activities the sitter can do with your child.
Your other children are likely to notice their sibling’s learning or attention issues and have questions. These conversation tips can help you reply honestly and appropriately—and support all your children.
Visiting people’s homes is stressful for many kids. But for kids with learning and attention issues, not knowing what to expect or how to behave can be especially difficult. These simple strategies can help.
Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.
Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.
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