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Siblings as Babysitters

by Lori Sciame | June 26th, 2012 | Elementary

Older brothers and sisters serve as built-in role models for elementary age children. This can either have negative or positive effects, depending on what the older child is teaching the younger child while you and your spouse are at work. Since it’s summer, and many parents depend on an older child to watch a younger sibling at least part of the time, I want to outline some of the pitfalls and some of the benefits of this type of arrangement.

Cost vs. Effectiveness

Having an older child babysit the younger one can save a lot on child care costs, and what family does not want to save money? Yet, if a 14-year-old is left all day with a 9-year-old, the situation can deteriorate very rapidly. Their time together can either be fun, depending on the maturity level of the older child, or it could spell trouble for both children. If at all possible, you should limit the amount of time the older child needs to watch the younger one, so that resentment doesn’t build.

What is Being Taught?

Face it… your teen might be doing a few things your younger child should not know about. This is where parents have a hard time admitting to themselves that their teen is growing up. For instance, your older child may experiment with alcohol or tobacco while you are away. One of the saddest things that happened in my home town… a young teen got her elementary age brother drunk “just to see what would happen.” No, all kids do not go to such extremes, but if your teen needs to earn your trust, then don’t leave him or her alone for long periods of time with your younger child.

Bonding Time

Of course, if you have a responsible teen, you can rest assured that if an older child spends a summer babysitting a younger sibling, they will most likely have time to bond. With such busy lives, sometimes it’s hard for siblings to connect during the school year, so when summer rolls around, it offers a way to reconnect. I am sure many of you have fond memories of what you did with your brothers and sisters on those long, hot summer days years ago. I vividly remember putting on carnivals for MD and swimming at the local pool.

Real Responsibility

This type of babysitting arrangement also fosters responsibility in older children. They learn to care for another, and to make sure the home runs smoothly until the parent returns. Naturally, doing this type of work helps them develop self-esteem and self-assurance. In addition, the younger child learns that not only must he or she listen to mom and dad, he or she must listen to brother or sister.

As you can see, there are negatives and positives associated with siblings watching younger children during the summer months. A lot depends on the maturity level of your children, but always remember, good or bad, your older child is a role model for the younger one.

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