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I’ve been watching a friend’s kids for about a month and a half. She is very loose on parenting and very “whatever” on her instructions to me. I brought little treats for the kids the first four times I babysat for them, but I can’t keep doing that forever. They get upset whenever I do not bring stuff for them, and they even complain if I bring what they consider the wrong kind of candy. But I am afraid they will be even harder to deal with if I don’t bring treats. These kids lack any kind of manners or social courtesies. The whole family is exhausting. How do I deal with this and let the kids know they won’t get any candy, while still keeping them calm?
I don’t know if you can accomplish both goals at the same time. I call your condition entitlement fatigue, and the only cure I know requires a strong dose of discipline from the parents. Unfortunately, as the babysitter, you have only a limited ability to change the kids’ conduct.
Your course of action depends in large part on how badly you need the job. If you are willing to risk losing the job, then you can take a stand on behavior during the times when you watch the children. I’ll explain how in a bit. If you cannot afford to lose this job, the solution is far simpler — you must grin and bear it. Either bring the candy and pander to the spoiled kids, or don’t bring the candy and deal with their boorish response. Because unfortunately, if you take steps to improve your working conditions, you risk angering the woman who hired you.
Only you can determine whether the stress you feel while watching children under those conditions is worth the reward you receive for your efforts. Your question suggests that you want things to change. If so, try these five steps.
- First, cut back on the candy. Tell the kids that you don’t intend to bring candy anymore, but you might do it sometimes if they behave. Tell them that they must use good manners or they will lose the little that they have earned. I wouldn’t call this as much a bribe as an incentive to behave.
- Second, set some basic conduct rules and start punishing the kids when they disobey. This is where you face the greatest risk, so clear it with their mother first. If the mother doesn’t punish the kids for poor behavior, she may get upset when you do so. Just enact a few broadly accepted rules of conduct, such as no yelling, no fighting, no talking back, etc. Then establish punishments such as denial of privileges or isolation in a room or corner to enforce the rules. Be up front with the children, who seem to have little experience with discipline and probably will not pay attention to your rules at first.
- Third, be consistent with your enforcement of the rules. You’ll probably have some fairly uncomfortable days at first, while the children learn that you mean what you say. If you can make it past this transitional period, the atmosphere will probably improve. Or at least it will become less tiring, which represents a victory in itself. You may want to create a chart to keep track of everything.
- Fourth, do not under any circumstances allow the children to treat you disrespectfully. If they hit you or use foul language, resort to your most serious punishment. Then talk to the mother and let her know that you will not permit that kind of behavior. If the woman doesn’t agree to support you on this, find another family that needs a sitter.
- Fifth, be prepared with enjoyable activities that will keep the kids busy during the day. Boredom often leads to acts of rebellion, while a full schedule leaves little time for plotting mischief.
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