- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

I recently left my 3-year-old daughter with a 16-year-old baby sitter for the first time. My daughter was fine for an hour or so and then began refusing to follow the sitter’s instructions, running away from her and screaming when things didn’t go her way.

When this sort of thing happens with me, I send her to her room until she is ready to obey and/or calms down. I wanted to discipline my daughter when I got home, but it was time for her to go to bed.

I don’t want to make being with a baby sitter a dreaded experience for my daughter because she is somewhat anxious about my leaving her. On the other hand, I expect her to mind baby sitters. What kind of discipline should I tell a sitter to use when my daughter misbehaves?

A: Unless the sitter in question came with lots and lots of experience handling younger siblings and/or other children — and the confidence of his or her parents — I wouldn’t give a teenage baby sitter permission to discipline a toddler. First, this is expecting the sitter to go above and beyond the call of duty. Second, most teens don’t know the first thing about the discipline of young children. Some high schools and community agencies operate baby-sitter training programs, and graduates of those programs may be more confident when it comes to disciplinary matters, but with that possible exception, I would relieve sitters of disciplinary responsibilities.

I have two tested ideas for you, the first being what I term “making a dry run.” Hire a sitter when you have an obligation-free evening, but act as if you’re going out. Make all the necessary preparations, greet the sitter, give her your cell-phone number (or some other number where you can be reached) and tell her to call you at the first sign of misbehavior. It’s important that you stress the need to call before the proverbial snowball begins rolling downhill.

Go someplace close to your house and wait for the call, which almost surely will come. When it does, go home, discharge the sitter and immediately send your daughter to bed. Depending on the nature of the offense the night before, I might carry over some punishment (e.g., no television) to the next day.

The next time you hire a sitter, remind your daughter what happened the previous time and let her know you are only a phone call away. You may need to implement more than one dry run to make the point, but the inconvenience will pay off handsomely in the long run.

My second idea is a variation on my general-purpose “ticket” method, which is described extensively on the members side of my Web site (www.rosemond.com). The next time you hire a sitter, take your daughter and the sitter into the kitchen. Tape two “tickets” — rectangles of colored construction paper — to the refrigerator.

Tell your daughter that if she misbehaves — and be specific in that regard — the sitter will pull a ticket off the refrigerator. If the sitter has to pull the second ticket, your daughter will be in trouble when you come home. If she is asleep when you arrive home, carry some punishment over to the next day. At her age, she can remember readily what happened the night before, as long as you are precise in your description.

You also can combine these approaches: Make one or two dry runs, and when you feel the sitter situation is fairly well under control, implement the ticket system. In any case, you need to get across the point that even when you are not home, your authority is in force.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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