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What They’re Like and What You’ll Need

Kids come in a variety of ages, and each age requires a different level and type of care. As a babysitter, you’ll need to decide what age group you’re most comfortable with so that you can narrow down your job hunt. Not sure? This quick breakdown will clue you in on the personality traits and skills you’ll need to care for kids ages 0 to 10. And don’t forget to wash your hands before you care for any kid!

Newborns (0 to 3 Months Old)

What They’re Like

  • These tiny creatures can hardly move, support their own heads, or hold their own bottles.
  • They need a good dose of formula or pumped breast milk around every two to three hours, or they may start crying hysterically.
  • The good news: Newborns sleep for sixteen hours a day at two to three hour intervals.
  • The bad news: You’re looking at full-on diaper duty.

What You’ll Need

  • A gentle touch and a desire to be really, really needed. Newborns are fragile (their bones haven’t fully developed yet), and you’ll be carrying them a lot.
  • Decoding skills. Cracking the newborn language code isn’t easy. They don’t cry only when they’re hungry. Maybe the little booger already ate and needs to be burped. Or maybe she’s uncomfortable and needs a diaper change, an extra sweater, or a good rocking session. It’s your job to figure it out.
  • Maturity. In general, you shouldn’t babysit for a newborn until you’re at least fourteen years old, or until you have plenty of experience

Infants (4 to 11 Months Old)

What They’re Like

  • These kids are starting to crawl, sit, and eventually walk (with your help!).
  • Younger infants are probably learning how to hold their own bottles, while older ones are likely eating mushy stuff (like baby food) on top of their scheduled feedings. If they can support their own heads and necks, they can sit in a high chair during meals.
  • Diapers are still the norm.
  • Infants will usually sleep multiple times a day for hours at a time.
  • An infant’s jibber-jabber may help you figure out why she’s crying.
  • Infants start teething at six months old, which means you’re in for a lot of drooling, chewing, and crankiness.
  • They also start to feel separation anxiety at about eight months old, which means they may fuss and cry for a while after their parents leave.

What You’ll Need

  • A cautious eye to make sure that the kids don’t sidle up next to sharp things.
  • Plenty of cleaning materials nearby, since food and drool will get everywhere.
  • A patient attitude. It’s easy to get frustrated when the kids take a long time to finish their mush, or when you can’t stop the crying right away.

Toddlers (1 to 2 Years Old)

What They’re Like

  • These kids can move. Fast. This is not always fun in the middle of a diaper change or dinner, or when there are safety hazards (like stairs) involved, but they will give you a great workout!
  • Toddlers can usually drink out of covered cups and eat solid food with their hands (have cleaning supplies handy).
  • They sleep for about ten to thirteen hours at night.
  • They’ll likely still need diapers, though some early birds start potty-training at this age.
  • They should be able to tell you (even if it’s in their own special language) that they need to be changed.
  • The littlest things can become cataclysmic whinefests. (There’s a reason they call it the Terrible Twos.)

What You’ll Need

  • A lot of patience. These kids want to assert their independence, and sometimes the best way they know how to do that is with a tantrum.
  • The ability to take a deep breath, use a calm tone of voice, and not react from your gut immediately.
  • Lots of extra energy, since these kids are starting to get into active games, like tag or finding hidden objects.

Preschoolers (3 to 4 Years Old)

What They’re Like

  • Preschoolers can walk and run on their own, though they’ll need to hold your hand sometimes, especially when crossing the street.
  • By this age, kids are typically potty-training with adult assistance, and they may wear diapers at night.
  • These kids need supervision in the tub, and they probably need help getting cleaned and dressed.
  • These kids can tell you when they’re hungry and what they want to eat, and they are learning to feed themselves with regular utensils.
  • They can be really picky, and mealtime can drag on due to an endless number of delaying tactics (theirs, not yours).
  • Some of these kids will do anything to not face bedtime, and when they do go to sleep, they may have nightmares!

What You’ll Need

  • A lot of creativity (and maybe your old Halloween costumes). Preschoolers love make-believe games. They also love books, though they won’t know how to read for a few more years.
  • Patience. You’ll need to be flexible, since they often get stubborn or defiant.
  • An arsenal of lullabies. While they sleep for about ten to twelve hours at night, four-year-olds may have a nasty case of nightmares and will need you to help lull them back to sleep.

Kindergarteners to 2nd Graders (5 to 7 Years Old)

What They’re Like

  • My, my, they grow up so fast! These kids can pretty much take care of the basics—dressing, eating, and bathing—by themselves, so you probably won’t need to chase them down too much. Unless, of course, you’re playing tag.
  • They may still need help with more advanced tasks like cutting, drawing, and reading, but that’s the fun part.
  • Kindergarteners may still be picky about what food they eat, but they can eat regular meals without your help (and they probably don’t want your help either).
  • They should be able to go to the bathroom and take a bath without your help (though you should always supervise bath time just in case).
  • At night, there might be some rare cases of bedwetting. If you’re grossed out, try your best to not freak out.

What You’ll Need

  • Stellar negotiating tactics. By now the kids can speak totally clearly, and they’ve also learned how to use words to their advantage. Though serious tantrums should have stopped, these kids may still put up a fight (or worse, lie to you) about things like bed time, homework, and their snack allowance.
  • Creative cooking skills. Kids this age tend to be picky eaters.

3rd to 5th Graders (8 to 10 Years Old)

What They’re Like

  • These kids are more or less independent and biding time before they don’t need a babysitter.
  • You’ll probably still need to cook or order food for them, but they can at least help around the kitchen.
  • If you do need to chase them down for anything, it will likely be to do their homework (which they might need your help with). Better brush up on that long division!

What You’ll Need

  • Flexibility and an open mind. Older children can communicate very clearly, and they’re forming an independent, critical point of view. In other words, they might be know-it-alls.
  • They’re pretty much up to their own thing, so you’ll need to figure out when to stay out of their way (i.e., if they have a trusted friend over and they’d like to play a game without you—of course you’ll still be keeping an eye on them) and when to intervene (i.e., if they’re online when they’re not supposed to be).

Special Needs Kids

The term “special needs” refers to just about every disability out there, ranging from attention deficit disorder to autism to physical paralysis. Like all kids, no two special needs kids are alike, and disabilities can range from mild to severe. Their health, their behavior, and their schoolwork may be heavily impacted, or not affected at all. Chances are, parents will only hire older, experienced babysitters to watch over a severely impaired child. If you’re interested in learning about caring for special needs kids, you can visit Childcare.gov, or volunteer at your local community centers, libraries, and schools.

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