Thriving babysitting co-ops have a lot in common with preschools. Groups of kids regularly get together for several hours at a time. Sometimes these kids have a great time together, and sometimes they have problems. Babysitting co-op parents can smooth out difficult co-op shifts by adopting some of these discipline strategies from preschool teachers.
- Explain the rules. Kids know the rules of their preschool classrooms, but do they know the rules of your co-op shifts? Some children already know your rules, but others don't. It never hurts to repeat your rules, so mention them at the beginning of each shift. "Welcome, Emma and Jane. I'm glad you're here. Remember to not stand on the furniture, put the toys back when you're done with them, and don't touch the dog's tail."
- Maintain order. Kids feel more secure in orderly environments, and this is often reflected in preschool classrooms. Obviously, it's unnecessary to turn your living room into a preschool classroom, but you can create a sense of order by keeping toys in one place, enforcing the same rules all the time, and establishing a schedule for your babysitting shift.
- Offer instruction. If you just send a group of kids into a room filled with toys and activities, they may feel overwhelmed with all the options. Instead, offer one activity at a time and show them how to do it. "Now we're going to color. Come over to the table and find a picture you'd like to color."
- Praise positive behavior. Preschool teachers know that praise creates positive classroom environments. This discipline strategy is easy to adopt in a babysitting co-op: "Cade, thanks for helping your brother to get his shoes on before we go outside."
- Consistency. If you send one child to timeout for hitting but let another child get away with it, you'll find yourself with resentful children who like to challenge your authority. It's difficult, but be as consistent as possible with enforcing the rules during your shifts.
- Visual charts. Co-op parents may not need to go this far with discipline unless they have particularly problematic kids in their shifts, but it's a useful tool to know about that preschool teachers often use. Many preschool teachers make a three-colored chart with a happy face, a serious face, and a sad face. Each child's name goes on the happy face at the beginning of the shift. If a child misbehaves, send him to timeout and put his name on the serious face. If he acts up inappropriately again, his name moves to the sad face. Like I said, this is unnecessary in most cases, but it's very effective if you're having a difficult time with a certain group of kids.
What preschool discipline strategies have you adopted that you've found helpful?