As a babysitter, it’s your job to protect the children in your care. The scary reality is that there are all kinds of emergency situations that could happen under your watch — but there are just as many scary circumstances that you need to be prepared to take on yourself. Knowing the difference will not only keep the kids in your custody safer, you’ll also instill more confidence in their parents about your skills as a sitter, which can quickly help you become their go-to caregiver.
Our guide contains recommendations from experts from a variety of resources, and it’s a great resource to keep in mind for general babysitting jobs. However, be sure to take a few minutes to discuss parents’ preferred plans for different emergency scenarios any time you start working with a new family. They may want to be contacted in certain situations even if you’re able to handle them on your own.
What Babysitters Need from Parents to Plan for Emergencies
It’s important for babysitters and parents to work together from the beginning to make an action plan. Here’s the information you’ll need to keep kids safe, healthy, and happy.
Make Your Meet-and-greet Count
During your first meeting, be sure you have all of the information you need about the children’s health conditions. Most parents will be prepared to talk about any illnesses, injuries, and special needs their children have, but in case they aren’t, be sure to ask about:
- Food allergies
- Recent serious injuries, especially any that might impact a child’s mobility during an evacuation
- Medication allergies and medications being taken, especially those that may react to other medicines; emergency medical technicians (EMTs) will need this information if a child needs to be taken to the hospital for any reason
- How the child reacts to a minor injury; if it’s uncharacteristic for a little one to get upset after taking a tumble, you’ll know they’re suffering serious pain if they become hysterical after falling on the playground
Ask for a List of Emergency Contacts at Every Babysitting Job
There are certain numbers every sitter should keep stored in their phone. For example, if you do a lot of local sitting, it’s a good idea to have the number for your local police department’s non-emergency line. You should also program 800-222-1222 into your phone, which routes you to your local Poison Control Center 24 hours a day.
There are other names, addresses, and phone numbers parents need to provide you on every single babysitting job you go on, no matter how many times you’ve babysat for the family. This list needs to include:
- The home’s full address, which you’ll need if you call emergency responders
- Parents’ cell phone numbers
- Phone number of where parents will be while they’re away
- Name and number for at least one nearby friend or family member, in case parents aren’t reachable
- Information for the nearest hospital
- Pediatrician’s phone number and address
- Local police department’s non-emergency phone number
Also ask them for their family emergency evacuation plan. If you need to escape a house fire or another dangerous situation, knowing the best way to leave the home no matter which room you’re in is critical.
Know Where Emergency Supplies Are Stored
Be sure to find out where the family’s emergency supplies are kept. Don’t just ask — have parents show you where to find items such as:
- A first-aid kit that includes bandages, gauze, tweezers, gloves, scissors, antibiotic ointment, and burn salve
- Medication (be sure you have permission to administer medicine and know the correct dosage)
- A flashlight
- A fire extinguisher
What Babysitters Should Do in Emergency Situations
A little one getting injured while in your care can be scary for everyone, but not every situation is an emergency that requires a trip to the hospital or a call to parents. Here’s how to handle any disaster.
Take Care of It on Your Own
You don’t need to call the parents for every minor mishap. You’re the one they put in charge to care for their kids, after all, and they trust you to handle the small stuff. Take care of these types of boo-boos on your own:
- Small cuts and scrapes
- Bumped heads
- Falls and tumbles
- Minor burns
- Scuffles between siblings that involve minor offenses like scratching and hair pulling
Even though these blunders aren’t serious, be sure to include them in your report to parents at the end of the job.
Call the Parents
Depending on the disaster, you’ll sometimes need to call parents in the heat of the moment. Whenever possible, though, wait until the children have all calmed down, and then make the call privately. Kids who get hurt under the care of a babysitter tend to get more upset than they would with their parents, and they may get worked up knowing you’re calling Mom and Dad even after they’ve settled.
Call the parents if:
- You call Poison Control. If the child ingests something harmful but they’re acting normally, call Poison Control for instructions on next steps. They may advise you to call 911, induce vomiting, or do nothing at all. If they instruct you to take further action, do it, and then call the parents as soon as you’re able to.
- You suspect a sprain or a broken bone. These injuries hurt a lot and require medical attention, but they don’t need an ambulance.
- A child punctures their skin but it doesn’t appear to be serious. Cutting a small piece of skin off a fingertip with scissors or falling and biting the bottom lip, for example, are generally treatable by babysitters, but painful (and bloody) enough to earn a call to parents.
- A sudden natural disaster occurs, such as a tornado or an earthquake. Get to safety as quickly as possible. Once the danger has passed, call to let the parents know that everyone is safe.
The following scenarios all require a call for professional help. However, if there is an emergency, do not hesitate to call 911 no matter its nature. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and parents would much rather their babysitter err on the side of caution by calling for help rather than not taking an emergency seriously. After help arrives, call the parents as soon as it makes sense to do so.
Call 911 if:
- There is a fire. Other than a very small fire that you’re able to put out quickly with a fire extinguisher, you need to evacuate the children and call 911 immediately.
- A child has an allergic reaction you treat with epinephrine. Parents of children who have a known allergy will instruct you on how to treat it with epinephrine (an EpiPen being the most common tool for injecting it). Once you’ve administered the medication, call 911.
- A child has an allergic reaction you don’t have treatment for. It’s possible for a child to have an allergy the parents don’t know about and that they’re therefore unequipped to treat with epinephrine, such as with food and insect stings. In these cases, call 911.
- A child is choking and you’re not trained to perform the Heimlich maneuver. A dispatcher will instruct you on what to do immediately and then send help.
- You perform or need to perform CPR on the child. If you’re trained in CPR, do this first, and then call 911 once they’ve regained consciousness. They may have a serious injury or other condition that needs medical attention. If you’ve never taken a CPR course, call 911 so the dispatcher can advise you on the procedure and send help.
- A child is unconscious or suddenly has trouble communicating. If a little one takes a tumble and becomes unconscious, they may have a serious head injury requiring immediate medical attention. Similarly, a chatterbox who seems to be having speaking difficulties or has a blank look in their eyes without explanation may be experiencing a seizure.
- A child has a seizure. The dispatcher will walk you through what to do and send help.
- The child consumes a toxic substance and experiences a strong reaction, such as difficulty breathing or a change in skin color.
- A child receives an injury requiring stitches. Deep gashes should all be treated by a doctor immediately to prevent the wound from getting infected. If there isn’t a lot of bleeding, it’s OK to call the parents first to alert them to what happened and ask for permission to drive the child to the emergency room yourself.
- A child endures a serious burn. If a little one comes into contact with boiling water or a lit stovetop, for instance, call paramedics to start treatment immediately.
- A child receives a serious shock. Kids who find uncovered electrical outlets may stick their fingers or another object in them, in which case you should call for help.
- You see someone suspicious in or around the home. Don’t take any chances — if you see a stranger that can’t be explained or you encounter someone worrying, call 911 immediately.
Whether they’ll be gone for an hour or an entire evening, it can be stressful for parents to leave their kids behind, so you should take every step possible to demonstrate your competence as a babysitter. Ideally, you should have babysitting training and certifications for first aid, CPR, and the Heimlich maneuver, which will help you feel more confident in case of an emergency — and may even save a life.
In addition, every babysitter needs to know how to handle different types of worst-case scenarios and clearly communicate with parents about their expectations. This will ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to which emergencies can be handled by the babysitter, warrant a call to the parents, and require help from EMT, police, or firefighter responders.