Ask the Expert: Bernadette Noll on Babysitting and GIVEAWAY

These days we have so much information at our fingertips to help solve any parenting dilemma (admittedly, most of the times we may have too much). You could argue the Internet was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to parenting.

Despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of information, it’s still nice to consult a parenting expert once in a while to get some new ideas, advice and even a dose of perspective.

At LiveMom, we want to help answer your questions, and so we have a recurring feature called Ask the Expert. We’ll take on anything from potty training to car seats to dealing with kids and technology to anything in between. Then, we’ll find local and national experts to help guide us to make the best choices for our families.

Got a question? Post it below, on our Facebook page or email us and we’ll try to get it answered!

Shortly after we published our updated list of Parents’ Night Out programs around town, we received this query from a reader:

My daughter is getting to be the age that neighbors and friends are asking me if she can babysit. When and how will I know when she is ready?

I’m still in the throes of finding babysitters myself, so I wasn’t quite sure what to advise. Then, I remembered our friend Bernadette Noll of Slow Family Living has offered a Babysitting 101 class in the past, right here in Austin. So many wonderful resources at our disposal in this town! So I sent along the query to her, and thankfully, she was more than willing to give us some guidance.


Here’s what Bernadette had to say:

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, a new family moved onto our block. They had a toddler and a new baby on the way. One day my friend Edie and I worked up our courage and knocked on the door one summer day and asked if we could play with the toddler. The mom was confused at first, then quickly realized her good fortune. Two nine year old girls wanted to “play” with her toddler? Leaving her inside to get stuff done, or take a rest if she so desired? It was the perfect scenario! We were the perfect mother’s little helpers.

That day began my many years of babysitting. And formed my very strong belief that every new baby should arrive with an 8 or 9 or 10 year old child.

In the past few years I have had hundreds of kids come through my babysitting workshop in anticipation of being a sitter or a mother’s helper. (In the name of gender fairness I’ll say father’s helper too but that’s the exception of course.)

My course is designed for kids ages 9-14 and my goal is to give kids the information they need to be the very best sitter they can be. I teach them about working with different aged kids, about building relationships with the families they work for, safety tips (NOT FIRST AID!!) and how to bring their own interests and hobbies into their job with them. Whenever I put a course on the books, the number one question I get asked is, HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR KID IS READY TO START BABYSITTING??

Years ago I saw a cartoon that showed parents with their first child interviewing a sitter with a list of questions a mile long. Then it showed parents with their second child with a poster of a carnival clown that stated, “You must be this tall to watch our child.”

Kidding aside, how do you know if your child is ready to start babysitting?

If your child is asking about babysitting, that is the first clue that they are ready. There really is no set age, rather it must start with desire. For newbies I recommend starting as a mother’s helper. Even a child as young as 7 can give a mom a much needed break by being there as a playmate. While the mom gets stuff done, she can rest easy knowing that her child is being tended to and, since Mom (or Dad) is on the premises, they can be reached if needed. This is baseline sitting and is super valuable to parents – especially parents with a toddler and a new babe!

For actual babysitting, again the desire must be first and foremost. Kids who are just not that into it will quickly learn that without desire and love of little kids, there is no amount of money that will make it worthwhile.
AdvertisementIf you are uncertain about whether your child is ready to start (or whether that 11 year old down the street could be wrangled) start small. Try it out for an hour or so while the parent tends to a task nearby. Knowing there is an easy escape valve can put everyone at ease. Start as a parent’s helper, then segue into an hour walk in the n’hood. Starting out with daytime sitting is also a great and easy way to start.

Only the child can really know if he or she is ready. While there are some kids ready to sit at 11, some are still not comfortable with it in their teens. How comfortable are they with tasks? Can they whip up some mac and cheese? Do they like being home without a parent around? No matter how much WE think they might be ready, it is ultimately up to them.

Once you’ve decided your child is ready, play out some possible scenarios. What if there’s an emergency? What would they do? What if they need help with something? Who can they call? It’s always a good idea to start in close proximity to home. If a child is babysitting around the corner, knowing they can call on their own parents is a great step-stool to independence. Start with neighbors and nearby friends. The first few gigs can really determine whether they’ll want to continue on the babysitting track!

I love training new sitters partly because I love that I can see their eyes flicker with the hopes of making their own money, and partly because as a parent I KNOW how important a reliable sitter is to the well-being of the whole family. Being a babysitter definitely isn’t for everyone but when it is, it is definitely a win-win-win situation!

Thanks for the great tips, Bernadette! We were excited to learn that her next Babysitting 101 Workshop is right around the corner and Bernadette is giving away one slot to the child of a lucky LiveMom reader!

Babysitting 101 Workshop
Suggested ages: 9-14
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Austin Tinkering School
1122 Airport Blvd.
Register here



This class, taught by Bernadette Noll, will teach you some really practical and innovative ways to connect with kids while maintaining your position of being the responsible one in charge. In this class you’ll learn… • playful games for indoors and out • how to make smooth transitions from playtime to practicals • tips for creating pleasant bedtimes and mealtimes • how to use your own skills, talents and abilities to enhance your time with the kids • safety tips for in the house and in the yard • how to create your very own Mary Poppins bag of tricks • what to do in an emergency and when to call for help • how to maintain good relationships with the families you work with, and how to find clients!


Bernadette is giving one lucky LiveMom readers one slot to her upcoming Babysitting 101 Workshop (a $35 value!)

What do you have to do to win?

Leave a comment or fill out the form below.

Official Rules

No purchase necessary. All entries must be received between 4pm CST on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 and midnight CST on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. One entry per household. Must be at least 18 years old to enter. To enter, complete the form below or leave a comment indicating which show you would like to attend. A slot to the Babysitting 101 Workshop has an approximate retail value of $35. The number of eligible entries received determine the odds of winning. The winner will be selected using, notified by email on Thursday, March 5th and given 24 hours to respond. If no response is received within the 24 hours, a new winner will be chosen. The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash value. The winner is responsible for paying any taxes related to the prize. By leaving a comment or filling out the form below, you agree to the terms and conditions stated above and also release LiveMom from any liability whatsoever, and waive any and all causes of action, related to any claims, costs, injuries, losses or damages of any kind arising out of or in connection with the giveaway or delivery, misdelivery or acceptance of any prize (including, without limitation, claims, costs, injuries, losses and damages related to personal injuries, death, damage to or destruction of property, rights of publicity or privacy, defamation or portrayal in a false light, whether intentional or unintentional), whether under a theory of contract, tort (including negligence), warranty or other theory. Void where prohibited by law. Thanks to everyone who entered! We have contacted the winner via email.


About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

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