Nate and I have been parents for about four years now, and we almost never leave our kids with a babysitter.
Which means we almost never go anywhere without three children in tow.
The reason for it, honestly, has more to do with us than with the kids. The children would be fine, I'm sure, but we psych ourselves out. There are normal parent concerns. What if he won't stop crying? And then there are more individualized issues. Some Boy's esophagus was weirdly slow to develop. Food used to get lodged in his throat quite frequently, meaning we wound up doing the Heimlich maneuver on an almost-weekly basis. What if he chokes? What if…what if?
Eventually, though, there comes a time when you need to step back. For Nate and I – as with many parents – work calls us away. We're bumping into scheduling issues, being asked to attend business meetings together, juggling events that coincide. And so, slowly, we're starting to let go of the reins…just a little. Having taught elementary school, I've actually guided a number of parents through leaving their kids alone for the first time. Here are the tips that I've found to be most successful.
Familiarize. If at all possible, arrange a time for your kids to meet the babysitter without you leaving. That will give them time to warm up to each other without stressing about your absence.
Communicate. Early in the day, explain to your children that they'll be staying at home while you go out for awhile. Present it as an exciting opportunity (“You get to have your special friend over, and she's going to have a treat for you after dinner!”).
Provide a distraction. After we joined the Netflix Stream Team, the boys quickly created their own profiles and established a playlist of their favorite shows (helloooo, Jake and the Neverland Pirates). I know a lot of people who don't like to hand babysitters the remote because they “don't want to pay someone to watch their kids watch television,” but I say it's a good way to make the whole thing easier for everyone.
Embrace shortcuts. Whether it's PB&Js for dinner or putting the kids to bed without a bath, don't be afraid to use shortcuts. The more things that the sitter has to juggle, the more you'll wind up worrying. Make sure that his or her attention is solely on your child – not on unnecessary things – to put both your minds at ease.
Give the sitter an out. The first time you leave your kids with someone, try to make it a casual date night that you can easily step away from if things aren't going well at home. Encourage the sitter to call or text if your kids are having a particularly difficult time. It may take a couple tries before they realize that you aren't leaving them forever!
Hire qualified care. It's essential that your children are in the hands of someone who knows how to handle an emergency. Ask for CPR certifications, first aid and references. Rest assured that children with special needs can absolutely have their needs met fully. Whatever your situation, there is proper care available! We're working with a service called 4sitters, which helps match parents with childcare for kids diagnosed with conditions such as Autism, Down Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy as well as the more common ones such as ADHD, Asthma, and Type 1 Diabetes.
Co-founders Sarah and Wayne Schlicht have a 12 year old son with behavioral and medical special needs, and they developed 4sitters.com to be highly specific in pinpointing caregivers’ special experience. “Caregivers with degrees in education, Registered Nurses and seasoned practitioners are finding that they need to supplement their salary with rewarding work babysitting,” said Sarah. So you can find a specialist who can prepare a healthy meal, help out with homework and manage an inhaler or insulin shot.
Have you left your kids with a sitter? What made you feel comfortable with stepping away?