- Set appropriate expectations. It is important to understand that there is not another person who will do things just like you. Your relatives may be well meaning, but they are going to have their own style. Decide which things are most important to you, and explain to them why you would like those things done in a certain way. Avoid being critical and don’t sweat the small stuff. If at the end of the night you had fun and your kids did too, it is a success!
- Pick the Place. Decide if you are comfortable bringing your child to your relative’s house. If you feel uncertain about whether your child will be happy and relaxed, consider asking your relatives to come to your house. If family is in from out of town, have them come to the house early. This allows your children to feel more comfortable with your relatives and gives you a chance to model the way you behave and set limits with your child.
- Depending on the age of the child, it is important to explain what your expectations are at mealtime and snack time. If the child is an infant, do they like the bottle warm, cold, or that in-between that can only happen with your special bottle warmer? Explain what your baby eats, how much, and how to know when your baby is full. If you have an older child, give guidelines on what foods can be eaten at mealtime, and what types of snacks, and how many, are appropriate.
- This one might be obvious, but if your child has a particular food allergy, make sure babysitters are aware of potential hidden sources of allergens as well. If needed, bring your own snacks. And if your child has an EpiPen®, show your sitters how to use it.
- The bedtime ritual. You and your child know it well, but it’s helpful to write it down, step-by-step. Include the little details about hair washing in the bathtub, how to tuck in the blanket, what light to leave on, and which stuffed animal goes where.
- Household pets. Young kids and unfamiliar pets don’t always mix well. Have a conversation about household animals, and make sure that your child is never left alone with an unfamiliar pet.
- Home safety. If you bring the kids to Grandma’s, do a quick walk-through of the house to identify any potential areas where your child could get into trouble. If your little one is going through that phase where they want to check out all of the electrical outlets and drawers, bring a few childproofing supplies along. Ask about medications. Explain the importance of keeping all medications out of sight and out of reach.
- Digital/TV rules. Be clear on your policy for how long kids can watch TV and play on digital devices. Avoid allowing children to download new games and movies when mom and dad aren’t around. Give suggestions for appropriate shows and importantly, what kinds of shows might scare your kids. Harry Potter might be terrific for some children, but terrifying for others.
- Demonstrate how you set limits at home, the types of warnings you give and what the consequences are for crossing the line. Relatives don’t want to come across as mean or upset the children. Let them know it is okay to enforce rules. When you return, support them, whether they handled it as you would have or not. Discuss any changes that you would expect in the future, away from the children.
- However quirky, if your child has particular things she dislikes, share them with your relatives to help make things go smoothly.
- Baby on Board. If your relatives are planning to take your child outside their home, make sure they know how to use the car seat and stroller safely, and confirm where they are going and how to get in touch with them.
- Make a Cheat Sheet. You know your child, and every little detail may seem obvious to you, but may overwhelm your relative. Make a list of important numbers and details that they should remember. Be sure to check in at least once while you are out, and let them know it is okay to contact you if needed.
Elizabeth Zmuda, DO
Elizabeth Zmuda, DO, completed her residency at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2008. She currently works in the Department of Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care at Nationwide Children’s.
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