Looking after my four children was a doddle! Who am I kidding – it was the hardest job in the world with about 15 years of sleep deprivation thrown in for good measure. But as a parent, I adapted and learned to cope. I learnt to hang out the washing with a toddler attached to my ankle, a baby tucked under my arm while playing football with a six-year-old and listening to the oldest child read.
Fast forward 20 odd years and grandchildren join the family along with the inevitable babysitting duties. Now babysitting, with all our experience surely will be easy – all the fun, then give them back when they’re tired out and grumpy?! How wrong could I be – keeping up with toddlers is tiring and childcare has changed… a lot!
So I’ve put together my best tips and advice for babysitting the grandchildren to keep them safe and to have lots of fun!
roll with it
Find out how to put the pushchair up… and down! You may think you’ll need an engineering degree but it’s easy when you know how. Standing in the supermarket car park trying to find that elusive catch to collapse a stroller is no fun! And unfolded pushchairs are very difficult, though not impossible to fit in your car boot – yes… that did happen!
clunk, click, every trip
On the same note, find out how to fit the car seat correctly into your car, even if you think you won’t need it! Little ones have a habit of making you change your plans. You might need an emergency trip to the shop because your toddler grandchild cannot possibly go to sleep until they’ve had the yoghurt that mummy always buys! You don’t necessarily need to know all about ISOFIX and iSize but you do know how to click or strap that seat in safely.
the toy box
This can be a tricky one, especially if your grandchildren are different ages. Toys for a six year old often contain bits which fit perfectly in little one’s ears and noses (and if you’ve not worked out how to put the pushchair up or fit the car seat, a trip to A&E to retrieve it is going to be difficult!) Plastic tubs with lids, labelled with ages can be a good idea. I’ve tried hard to resist buying the ‘must-have’ toys with seemingly twenty zillion plastic accessories as they are soon replaced with the next fad. Instead, I have invested in wooden toys which will entertain future grandchildren, and who knows, great-grandchildren too! Even the older ones seem to love their simplicity and enjoy using their imaginations to transform a wooden truck into a princess carriage, adding voices to the wooden characters as they create their own adventures.
Read sleep safety advice, it’s changed since I was told by a stern midwife to put my babies to sleep on their tummies. Advice now is to put them to sleep on their backs with their feet to the foot of their bed (yes… with lots of space above their head) and no cuddly toys! All night cuddles, however appealing are not allowed. After you’ve kissed goodnight, tuck them into their own cot or crib securely, with blankets (not too many!) under their arms.
the nursery is no place for the technophobe
My baby granddaughter’s monitor has an infra-red, pan, tilt and zoom camera, beeps at you when the temperature is too high or low, beeps if she doesn’t move for 20 seconds, and plays lullabies (apparently – I’ve still not managed to work out how to do that). It’s all very reassuring for worrying parents and grandparents, but make sure to find out how it all works! Don’t forget to pop your head in to check on them too, if only because they just look so beautifully peaceful when they sleep.
Older grandchildren will possibly have access to a tablet or computer - just make sure you know how to load the favourite games and how to play their bedtime song. Find out where the charging cable is to avoid the tired tantrum when the ‘bubbles’ disappear before little fingers have popped them all.
These days there are gadgets for everything and the younger generation just assume us ‘oldies’ know how it all works! Get them to leave you instructions.
just one more bedtime story
We all want to treat our grandchildren, especially if we don’t see them very often. When I get to have mine all to myself we play messy games (making our own slime has to be the favourite). We have ice cream before bed, go on wonderful adventures, and they have my undivided attention. But when it comes to bedtime, my advice is to stick to the usual bedtime routine (because I’m a softie, this is usually after just one more bedtime story). An ‘overtired’ grandchild is no fun for anyone – you, the little ones, or their parents the following day!
So while your grandchildren’s safety is, of course, paramount, when babysitting duties come your way, make the most of every moment. Make memories, dress up, dance, tell stories, have adventures, build a camp, paint a picture and… have fun!