8 things to tell your babysitter to prevent child abuse

No one wakes up in the morning expecting to abuse a child; A comprehensive checklist to avoid the unthinkable

No one wakes up in the morning expecting to abuse a child. Unfortunately it happens. Every day, more than 1,800 kids are abused in this country. The abuse comes from many sources: parents, relatives, caregivers and, yes, even babysitters.

If you’re a parent, this is not a reason to never leave your child with a sitter. But there are things you can do to lessen the chance that abuse may happen when you’re not home. Whether it’s a sitter you hire, the teenager from next door, a friend watching your child for a few hours or your significant other taking care of things while you work, everyone can use a little extra help to keep their cool when they get frustrated with a child’s behavior.

After talking to Stephen Wright, M.D., medical director of Norton Children’s Hospital and chair of the Partnership to Eliminate Child Abuse, I came up with a list of things to tell your babysitter to reduce the chance of an abusive situation. These are also helpful tips for all parents!

1. Crying is not about you. Babies and children will cry. Babies may cry because they’re tired, hungry or need their diaper changed. Children may cry because they don’t know how to tell you what they want or they’re frustrated. Both babies and children may even cry for no apparent reason. They do  cry to be bad or make you angry. Crying is not about you.

2. Establish a safe place. When a child is crying, it’s normal to feel frustrated. If you feel like you’re going to lose your cool, put the child on his or her back in a safe place — tell the sitter where your child likes to go and is comfortable, such as in the crib or the middle of the floor.

3. Leave a checklist. Leave a list of things to check when baby is crying: Does her diaper need to be changed? Is she too hot or too cold? Is she hungry? Is she frustrated? Does she need a hug? Is she scared? Is she uncomfortable? I had a friend whose child was throwing a fit because her new outfit was rubbing on her leg, causing a lot of discomfort.

4. Distraction, distraction, distraction. Be sure your sitter knows your child’s favorite toy or distraction. If I didn’t mention it, my sitter never would have known that my youngest child’s favorite thing was her stuffed lion. If a tantrum were in process, lion would surely help end it with a playful tickle.

5. Fun and games. Write down your child’s favorite game. When my children were little and throwing a tantrum, I could start blowing raspberries and they’d be giggling in less than 30 seconds. (Silly, I know, but that’s the point!)

6. Avoid the crash. Encourage your sitter to stick to nap and/or bed times. Children who are tired get cranky. First they may seem overly energetic, causing a well-meaning sitter to think that bedtime is too early. But after that burst of energy can come a huge crash into the world of extreme crankiness — leading to frustration for the sitter.

7. Accidents happen. If your child is toilet training, be sure the sitter knows that there may be accidents, and that’s OK. Simply explain what to do with any soiled clothing (and what to do if there is mess anywhere else).

8. Know the number. Write down some phone numbers of people the sitter can call in a time of frustration, if you’re not available. Having someone else to talk to can often help calm someone down.

Get more tips on how to prevent child abuse at DontHurtChildren.com. Download a special babysitter instruction sheet that will help you remember some of these tips.

If you need support or someone to talk to (also consider leaving this information for your babysitter):


Do you suspect your child has been abused?

  • Learn some of the early signs of child abuse: Children under age 4 should not have bruising on the torso, ears or neck. Infants should never have any bruises.
  • Take your child to Norton Children’s Hospital or the nearest emergency department for evaluation.

To make a confidential, anonymous report:

  • In Kentucky, call the Kentucky Child Protection Hotline toll-free 24/7 at (877) KYSAFE1 / (877) 597-2331.
  • To report nonemergency situations that do not require an immediate response, you can use a Web-based reporting system at Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The Web option is available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, except for state holidays.
  • In Indiana, call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline toll-free 24/7 at (800) 800-5556.

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