During school and day care holiday breaks, parents often ask relatives or friends — including those from out of town — to baby-sit while they’re working, or shopping or attending end-of-the-year celebratory events.
Yet many parents — more than half, according to a newly released national survey — do not give those substitute sitters essential information to help them in an urgent situation, including the numbers for the local poison control center or nearest hospital.
Indeed, the survey, conducted by University of Michigan researchers, found that parents of children aged 5 and younger are remarkably cavalier about writing down emergency information for baby sitters. Only 48 percent of the surveyed parents said they post their own work or cell numbers in an easy-to-find location for their temporary sitters, while 47 percent said they do not provide the number for their child’s doctor.
The parents were even less likely to give their sitters numbers for poison control (35 percent) and the nearest hospital (31 percent).
Surprisingly, parents who lived more than 15 minutes from a hospital emergency department were less likely to post key contact information than those who lived closer.
Those findings are based on responses from a nationally represented sampling of 386 parents who had at least one child under the age of 6.
Don’t make assumptions
“Parents often need extra babysitting help around the holidays when childcare facilities are closed and regular babysitters are less available,” said Sarah Clark, a research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Child Health Evaluation and Research Center, in a statement released with a report on the survey’s results. “Family members and friends may be a natural choice to help watch children, but parents should make sure they are preparing babysitters for emergencies, especially those who don’t have young children themselves.”
“Sitters should be able to easily find key contact information and be comfortable handling different types of emergencies,” she added. “Parents shouldn’t assume sitters have all of the information they need. They should go over basic information whether they will be gone all day or just a couple of hours.”
Impromptu baby sitters will appreciate getting that information. The survey also questioned 546 adults who have no children in their households about what they might do if they were suddenly called on to baby-sit a young child and an urgent medical problem arose.
About a third said they had no fears about stepping in as an impromptu baby sitter, but others cited worries about what to do in specific situations.
“Adults who are not parents of young children described themselves as fearful of a child choking or suffering an injury — common situations that can occur even when baby sitting for a short period of time,” the report on the survey notes.
What parents should do
The University of Michigan researchers offer the following tips to parents about what to discuss with baby sitters before leaving a child in their care. Grandparents, family friends and others who might suddenly find themselves serving as an impromptu baby sitter this holiday season — or at any other time of the year — should also take note of these tips.
Be available: Whether arranging a short stay or an overnight visit, parents should make sure a sitter can reach them. Provide cellphone numbers, a backup number (for the restaurant or destination) and those for emergency services. Post them on the refrigerator or in another go-to spot.
Be vigilant: Your home is probably baby-proofed. Show a visitor the landscape — where the first-aid kid is kept and how to work the baby gate, for instance. Dropping off your child? Scope for issues that include stairs, household chemicals and pets. It might not be feasible to ask a host to anchor furniture to a wall … so make problematic rooms off-limits.
Be curious: Every child is different. So even experienced baby sitters need to know your child’s favorite foods and activities to help make the separation easier. You should also explain how your family addresses issues tied to behavior and routine, including rules and expectations.
Be prepared: Caretakers benefit from knowing how to perform CPR and first aid. Parents should clearly detail the child’s illnesses, allergies and medications and how to handle scenarios such as choking, burns and injuries. Make sure your sitter knows when a trip to urgent care or the emergency room is necessary — and your preferred hospital.
Be realistic: Not every person is a suitable baby sitter, even if he or she is willing to help. Consider the caretaker’s needs and abilities.
FMI: You can read the full report on the survey on the University of Michigan’s website.