Watch Their Mouths When babysitting, you can usually tell when a child is being mischievous or naughty, versus when a child is being curious or thoughtful. Sometimes a child will ask difficult questions, say things he or she may not realize are inappropriate, or weird you out somehow. Here are some tips on how to handle difficult conversations with children.
Religious Questions If a child asks you about God, heaven, hell, or any of the above, a great answer is to gently ask back, “What do you think about that?” or “What did your mommy and daddy tell you about that?” This way you’ll quickly learn what the child has been taught, and you can most likely answer their question or comment based on what you know they know. If you don’t feel comfortable or knowledgeable chatting about religious stuff, tell the child “That’s a great question we can ask your mom when she gets home.”
Private Parts Don’t be surprised when babysitting if little boys talk about (and/or play with) their private parts, girls ask you if you’re wearing a bra, a 12-year-old asks if you have your period, and other seemingly inappropriate questions. Sometimes they’re simply curious, because they’re learning about these things, and other times they’re being naughty on purpose to see how you’ll react. Either way, the best reaction is a calm one. Never scold a child for asking a question, even if she appears to be testing her limits. If you do, it reinforces that there is something “bad” about what they’re asking. If the child makes any indication that he or she has been abused in any way from anyone outside the home, tell the parents.
1. Monitor the child—you may not need to intervene, if he/she has just made one comment among siblings. This is perfectly normal in most cases.
2. If the child says something directly to you, or tells you a story, and the topic is of a sexual nature or has something to do with private parts, use your judgement. A question about the body can be answered simply and scientifically; a question that makes you feel uncomfortable to answer may be best answered similarly to the one above: either, “What do you think about that?” Or “Let’s ask your mom when she gets home.”
3. If they’re clearly misbehaving, again, stay calm, but treat it as you would name-calling--tell them they’re being inappropriate, and to please stop using those words, as that is bathroom language. Toughen up this spiel if necessary by using the “call the parents” method.
Death While babysitting, a child once asked me, “If my mommy dies, would you be my new mommy?” His parents were divorced, he was five, and there had been a recent shooting in a building near the one where his mom worked. This child didn’t need an explanation of how I wouldn’t become his new mommy—he needed reassurance that his mommy and daddy love him more than anything in the world and they’re not going to leave him, so he doesn’t even have to worry about that.
Children may ask you about death if they’ve had a recent death in the family, or if they have a sick friend or family member. If you’re uncertain how to answer his comments or questions, refer to the suggestions in the “religious” section. If the child is of a religious family, his questions may be appeased by citing that you know how much he misses the person, but the person who is sick or has passed away is in a wonderful place (if deceased) and God is taking care of him or her (deceased or sick). Children don’t need a harsh reality when it comes to death—try to allow them to see death as a part of life.
Worrisome A friend of mine said she was babysitting two siblings, and the brother, age 6, told my friend that the devil was inside his head. He was not being cute. When children say something truly bizarre, always tell the parents. It probably doesn’t require a phone call, but remember the comment for when the parents come home. They may disclose something to you that could explain why the child’s thoughts are going in that direction.
Back to the comment: When children make comments that seem out of line, too advanced for them, or highly inappropriate, they may have seen it on TV or heard it from their parents or older siblings. In some cases, the child may be struggling with something psychologically. Attempt to distract the child with an idea—”Let’s read a book!” or “Can you show me how that puzzle works?” If the child persists or is agitated for a long period of time (more than a half hour, or based on your judgment), you may need to call the parent.