Keeping kids safe

8 things to tell your babysitter to prevent child abuse

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.

Stephen Wright, M.D., medical director of Norton Children’s Hospital and chair of the Partnership to Eliminate Child Abuse, offers a list of things to tell your babysitter to reduce the chance of an abusive situation:

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

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?

4. Distraction, distraction, distraction. Be sure your sitter knows your child’s favorite toy or distraction that can be pulled out quickly when a tantrum is coming.

5. Fun and games. Write down your child’s favorite game. Or is there a funny face or sound you make that can bring on giggling and distraction?

6. Avoid the crash. Encourage your sitter to stick to nap and/or sleep times. Kids 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 extreme 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.


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