Think back to your childhood: Do you recall a time when your older sibling looked after you while your parents were out? Or, if you are the oldest sibling, did your parents ever have you do this? There is a growing debate as to whether older children should or shouldn’t babysit their siblings. As always, there are both positives and negatives to the decision.
Cons: Why Older Kids Shouldn’t Babysit Their Siblings
If you were ever told you had to babysit your younger siblings instead of hanging out with your friends, you are likely in this group. There are many people who are firmly in the camp that older children shouldn’t babysit their siblings. The reasons vary, but all are valid.
1. It Is Unfair To Rely On Older Children As Caregivers
Your teenager did not decide to have more children, you did. While yes, older siblings should always watch out for their younger brothers and sisters, they are siblings, not free childcare providers. They lead busy lives full of school, extracurricular, social, and maybe even part-time work responsibilities. Throwing free babysitting on top of that is not only unfair, but it also may rob them of the end of their childhood. (1)
Teenagers (anyone over the age of 12) are still children, though they can often seem much older and more mature than your younger kids. In many instances, they might not actually be ready to take care of your younger siblings for an extended amount of time. (2) On top of that, they might not want to. A child who is really unhappy about babysitting is not your best option for childcare. (3)
2. It Can Build Resentment
Going off of that last point, forcing your child to babysit their siblings, especially frequently, can build resentment. This can be pointed toward you as well as the younger children. As already stated, it is unfair to expect your older children to suddenly act like adults. Especially if you’re asking them to do this often, they may start thinking of you as an absentee parent and feel as though they have been tasked with your job of raising their younger sibling. (1) If you were to hire a babysitter, you would have to pay them. Especially as your older child grows into their teenage years, they will likely become upset at the fact that they are not being compensated in some way. (3)
3. They’re Still Kids
Siblings have a different relationship with each other than parents to their kids or a paid babysitter. Good sibling relationships are about having fun together. When the older sibling is told that they’re in charge, they could take that to mean permission to get into mischief, as long as it’s something they want to do. On the other hand, if your siblings don’t get along, being left alone with one in charge over the other could lead to fights and other kinds of reckless behavior. The older sibling might be angry, and their young brain might not have the capacity to set aside their anger over the responsibility of making sure their younger sibling is safe. (4)
Pros To Having Older Kids Babysit
All of that said, there can be some pros to having your older children babysit, besides it being a potentially free or at least lower-cost form of childcare.
1. Teaches Responsibility
The only way to teach responsibility is to give it. Taking care of their younger siblings and following a set of guidelines that you have set out for them teaches them to do just that. Not only that, but it shows that you trust them enough to give them this responsibility. (1)
2. Leadership Skills
Being in charge of the younger siblings teaches your older child leadership skills. As long as they are coached properly, they will learn how to enforce rules and help their siblings through bedtime routines. (1)
3. Encourages Sibling Bonding Time
Again, when coached properly on how to behave and if they have a good relationship, leaving your children alone together can promote sibling bonding. Maybe the older child will help the younger with their homework; perhaps they’ll watch a movie together or read a book before bed. These can be really sweet moments and memories that they will share forever.
How To Properly Have Older Siblings Look After The Younger Ones
First of all, if you want your older child to babysit from time to time, they should be at least 12 years old. (2) They also need to be properly coached. A babysitting course is best, but at the very least, you need to prep them. This includes things like:
- Knowing what to do in an emergency:
- When to call the parents vs. 9-1-1
- Who to call or go to if they can’t reach the parents
- Fire safety and evacuation procedures
- Home alone safety
- Teach your kids how to speak or interact with others while the parents are out. It is important that they don’t open the door to strangers and don’t indicate to others that they are home alone.
- How to enforce rules:
- Remember, they are not the parent and, therefore, should not be disciplining the younger sibling. You are simply making sure they know the rules, and they are there to help the younger sibling follow them, too.
Secondly, you need to prepare the younger child, too. (3) Make sure all sibling know the schedule ahead of time:
- When homework is to be done
- What food is being served and when they can eat it
- When they are allowed to play and/or watch TV
- Bedtimes and bedtime routines to be followed
This should be gone over altogether so that everyone knows they’ve been told the same rules. Be sure that the younger sibling knows that they need to be respectful of the older one and that if they are not, there will be consequences given by the parents when they return.
Start Slowly And Don’t Rely On Older Siblings All The Time
Start by simply having the older sibling watch, the younger while you are either busy doing something in the house (for example, showering) or while you are out for a short time only, say, going to the grocery store. Full-day or overnight babysitting should only be done if and when the older sibling is both old enough and has shown the maturity to do so. If you have a younger sibling who is particularly difficult or doesn’t ever want to listen to the older, find a different babysitter. (3)
If your older child is willing and capable to babysit, always check with them first. Teenagers, in particular, might have plans on a Friday or Saturday night. They may be feeling swamped with school, or maybe they picked up a shift at their part-time job. If any of these are the case, you may want to consider finding an alternative arrangement. Remember: An unhappy, unwilling babysitter will not create a safe environment for anyone.
- “Why your older children shouldn’t be nannies for your younger children.” Mini Nanny Agency. May 15, 2017.
- “At What Age Can a Kid Start Watching Their Younger Sibling?” Healthline. November 1, 2019.
- “Should Older Kids Babysit for their Siblings?” Eliza Pantley.
- ” Does yor child babysit his siblings? Stop it now, says this study!” The Indus Parent