Sometimes the hardest part of the sitter's job is learning to deal with the parents. At Suburban Hospital's Baby Sitters' Workshop, Lynn Lucas-Dreiss advises teen-agers: "When you have a problem -- when a parent underpays you, for example, or comes home drunk and expects to drive you home in that state -- there are generally three ways you can deal with the situation: You can be aggressive and lash out at the parent angrily; you can be passive, not letting the parent know how you feel; or you can be assertive, getting your point across without getting angry or saying nothing.
"If you come on too strong," she explains, "parents can get put off. If you are passive they don't even know you have a problem with what was said or done -- and you end up feeling bad about it later. The rule of thumb for being assertive is that you don't want to hurt someone else's feelings, but you do want to let them know how you feel about something and to see if you can problem-solve with them. Assertiveness won't always work, but at least you are more likely to feel good about what you did in the situation -- and later you may ask someone for advice about how to handle that kind of situation the next time."
Teen-agers and their parents may want to do some brainstorming about potential problems ahead of time. How would you handle the situation if a parent came home drunk, for example? Would you carry along enough money so that you could call a taxi to take you home, or would you expect the parent to get you a taxi? What if he insists he's perfectly capable of driving you home, but you know it wouldn't be safe? Or what if the child gets sick and the parents aren't at the phone number they've given you? Do you have a network of other numbers to call? Do you always insist on being provided with emergency numbers, including the name and number of the child's doctor?
How to avoid power struggles with children -- the bane of a baby sitter's existence -- will depend on the child's age, Lucas-Dreiss tells baby sitters. "You don't want to set yourself up by saying, 'You've got to do this now.' Involve the children in the decision. Tell them in advance, 'You have to go to bed at a certain time. What kinds of things would you like to do before then?' By setting up a contract and a schedule and letting them help plan their time you get the children committed to a particular bedtime, so that when it comes you aren't the bad guy -- you aren't just springing it on them."