Most babysitting jobs go smoothly and the worst thing that happens is a fight over the last ice pop. But for the rare times when an emergency does happen, you need to be ready to handle it. That means thinking ahead and planning for anything that could happen.

Prepare in Advance

Like a surprise pop quiz, some emergencies — such as choking or seizures — require that you know the material. Before you even begin babysitting, it's a good idea to learn basic first aid, the Heimlich maneuver (for choking), and infant and child CPR. These allow you to begin providing emergency care to a child while you are waiting for help.

To sign up for these courses, check with your local hospital, YMCA, or Red Cross. These groups provide training in things like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver (and may even offer extensive babysitting courses). Some high schools do, too.

Because you'll have to attend courses and make a real commitment to learn these lifesaving procedures, talk it over with your parents before signing up. That way they know how important it is to you and can drive you to classes if you need them to.

EmergencyContact_button.gif

Top Things to Know About Emergencies

  • Know the full address of the home where you're babysitting in case you need to call emergency services (if there's a fire, for example).
  • Be sure you have easy access to emergency numbers. Have parents post numbers for the poison control center and other emergency info in an obvious place.
  • Don't pat a child who is choking on the back or put your finger in his or her mouth.
  • Only do CPR or the Heimlich maneuver if you've been properly trained. If you don't know what you're doing, you could injure a child.

Fire

When you babysit for a new family, ask the parents to write down their full home address. It may sound basic to ask for this kind of information, but it's so basic that many people forget. If you need to call 911 from the home phone, the dispatcher will probably be able to tell where in the United States you are located but will still need an address.

Every family should have a fire escape plan with more than one exit from the home, as well as a designated meeting place outside the house or apartment building. Be sure that both you and the kids know them. To feel even more prepared, make it a fun activity to practice the escape route with the kids.

Ask parents if the smoke alarms in the home are working and how recently they've been checked. Parents can never test them too often.

Finally, ask the child's parents to show you where they keep fire extinguishers. If you're not familiar with using one, read the instructions or ask the parents for a demonstration.

If you smell smoke or see a flame in the house, call 911, gather the children, and put the fire escape plan into action right away.

Poisoning

When you arrive at your babysitting job, take a quick look around to make sure no medications or household cleaning products have been accidentally left within the reach of kids. Check inside any cabinets that are easy for a child to get to.

If, despite your safety efforts, you suspect a child has taken a medication or a poison, call the poison control number. In the United States, the toll-free number is 1-800-222-1222. If the child becomes unconscious, call 911 right away and then contact the parents.

The poison control center will ask about the type of poison or medication you suspect the child took, an estimate of how much, and a few details about how the child is doing. The poison control expert will then give you instructions about whether the child needs to go to the emergency room or the doctor's office, or can be watched at home.

As soon as you can, contact the parents to alert them to the problem. If the child needs to go to the emergency room, it's helpful to take the bottle of pills or the household product along with you.

Choking

Preventing choking is much easier than treating it. When you arrive at your babysitting job, make it a habit to get down on the floor and scope it out to search for any risky items within reach. Remove anything that could be dangerous.

You might think of kids choking on things like coins, small toys, or other tiny objects that they can pick up and put in their mouths. But foods can be a choking hazard, too. Avoid serving these foods to young kids:

  • carrots or celery
  • cheese cubes
  • fruits with pits or seeds (e.g., cherries, watermelon)
  • grapes
  • gum
  • hard candy
  • hot dog chunks
  • nuts
  • popcorn

When feeding kids, have them sit down and keep them calm while eating to help them avoid choking. Don't give kids younger than 4 any hard, smooth foods or any of the foods listed above. Always cut food into small pieces for toddlers and preschoolers.

If a child begins to choke, can't make sounds, or is turning blue and you know the Heimlich maneuver, do it right away. If you haven't had training in this maneuver, call 911 immediately, then call the parents. Don't pat the child on the back or put your finger in his or her mouth — this could make things worse. If the child can make noises and cough, it's best to stay calm and watch to be sure things don't get worse. The episode will usually pass. Contact the parents as soon as you can to let them know this has happened.

Be Prepared, Not Scared!

It may seem scary to think about this stuff — it certainly brings home what a huge responsibility babysitting can be. Although it's unlikely you'll ever need to react to a serious emergency, just knowing what to do can help you feel more confident. Plus, knowing things like CPR or the proper way to do the Heimlich maneuver could give you an edge over other babysitters: Parents feel much safer when their sitters know these lifesaving techniques.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: August 2010

Related Resources

  • Emergency Preparedness and Response
    This link contains information from the CDC on preparing for and handling a natural disaster or severe weather emergency. Events covered include tornadoes, earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, as well as severe heat and cold.
  • United States Fire Administration for Kids
    This U.S. government site offers fire safety information, games, and the opportunity for kids to become junior fire marshals.
  • National Fire Prevention Association
    This nonprofit organization provides fire safety information and education.
  • Emergency Information Form for Children with Special Needs
    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a form for all the vital information about the child's condition, and the doctors and other key contacts in case of an emergency. It's a good idea to post it near the phone, in the car, and in a prominent common area in the house.