Recently a friend told me that she was noticing a trend in the church nursery. On her weeks to work in the nursery, she saw older children come to help but without any idea of how to play with the toddlers or take care of the babies. She had to direct each older child and explain how to play or how to hold the little ones.
Among the home skills that our children need to prepare them for adulthood, caring for children should have a prominent place. So many tough decisions come with being a parent, our children would benefit from a good foundation in the basics of caring for their future children. If they already have experience with the fundamentals of caring for a child’s physical needs, they will have a great headstart as new parents.
Attitude to Foster
First and foremost, the right attitude is paramount. A caregiver might fulfill her obligations, but if she carries out her duties with a begrudging, condescending attitude, the children under her care will not thrive.
In child-care, as in so many other aspects of life, our oft-repeated motto applies yet again: “Respect the elder; protect the younger.” As a caregiver, an attitude of respect for the parent’s desires and protection for the child will carry you through many potentially puzzling situations.
This attitude will make all the difference in whether the caregiver spends the majority of his time texting his friends on his phone or interacting thoughtfully with the child in his charge. It will help solve the question of whether to allow the child to try to walk along the top of the picket fence. The motto of “Respect the elder; protect the younger” is a faithful guideline.
Skills to Develop
The best of intentions, however, can’t take the place of practical training in basic child-care skills. Here is a short list of basic skills that will help prepare your children to care for those younger than they are.
- Meeting needs — The physical needs of babies and young children basically boil down to “food in and food out” needs. Our children need to know that you don’t give a four-month-old a piece of steak and that babies seem to spit out as much as they take in. Also, as is prudent and possible, they need to learn the basics of changing a diaper and helping a toddler use the bathroom. (Please use discretion in mixing genders for the “food out” needs.)
- Reading books aloud — Work with your children to practice reading simple books aloud with a pleasant, interesting voice. Help them gain experience in using a picture book to teach names of objects patiently and clearly.
- Playing — This skill will vary depending on the age of the child being cared for. Playing with a three-month-old is vastly different from playing with a three-year-old. Try to make sure your children have experience playing with a variety of ages.
- Keeping safe — If they are following the “Protect the younger” motto, the children will most likely keep safety as a high priority. It might also be wise to make sure they have a grasp on some basic first-aid “just in case.” (The American Red Cross has a First Aid and Safety handbook that might be helpful.)
Opportunities to Learn
“That’s all well and good,” you might say. “But how can my children gain all this first-hand experience with younger children?” Glad you asked. Here are a few ideas to get things started. You’ll probably find many more opportunities around you.
- Younger siblings — Babies and young children in the house are prime opportunities for the older children to learn child-care skills firsthand. We just need to make sure older siblings are not so busy that they never spend time caring for the younger or playing with the younger.
- Adopt a younger family — Part of God’s plan for discipleship is that the older mothers mentor the younger mothers. So look around your church for a younger mom who has younger children and invite her to meet you at a park or to come spend some time at your house. Discipling is best done in everyday situations. Your time together doesn’t have to be spent studying a book or following a program. Form a friendship; encourage the younger mother; give counsel when requested. And coach your older children in caring for that mom’s younger children while you are together. Help them see it as part of your family’s ministry to brothers and sisters in the church.
- Baby-sit — It works well to transition into a solo baby-sitting job by starting first in your home. Have your older child offer to care for a younger child or baby at your house, rather than at the child’s house. Your older child will be responsible and do the care-giving, but you will be on hand to watch and coach as needed. Once your older child is comfortable and competent baby-sitting at your house, he or she can more confidently transition to giving care alone at the younger child’s house.
- Nanny position — We were blessed this past year with the opportunity for our oldest daughter, who has graduated from our home school, to nanny during the week. Under the supervision of two godly women, she gained valuable experience with child-caregiving and tutoring, while at the same time ministering to the moms and their families.
Children are a blessing. Let’s do all we can to prepare our children to be parents who welcome and know how to care for their little ones.