It's a BLAST

Teaching kids to care for kids

by julie burton

It’s Saturday night and Mom and Dad have plans to go out to enjoy an evening with friends. After a hard week at work, catching up on household chores, spending some quality time with the kids, they look forward to an evening of relaxation and laughter. But their enjoyment of the evening is dependant on the knowledge that their kids are safe and happy at home.

At Billings Clinic, Michelle Herzog trains older kids to take care of younger kids at Babysitter Lessons and Safety Training (BLAST) classes. With up to 15 kids in the class, she and one or two other instructors spend a day of fun teaching kids ages 11 to 14 years old about being prepared to care for children. Focusing on safety, the students at BLAST are introduced to caretaking skills, emergency preparedness, fire safety and medical safety skills.

To prepare for medical emergencies, students are trained to perform CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. In case of an allergic reaction, these kids become familiar with an EpiPen and learn the correct way to use the pen. In case of a bad scrape or fall, the BLAST students practice bandaging on each other until they start to resemble a group of mummies.

Joan Sorenson, MD, a pediatrician at Billings Clinic, stresses the importance of training babysitters to be prepared to react to safety issues with kids. “Whether caring for infants, toddlers, or older kids, the babysitter needs to be aware of everyday situations carrying medical or trauma risks for kids at each age,” said Dr. Sorenson. “This includes awareness of appropriate sleeping position for infants; the risk of choking for older infants and toddlers on small bits of toys or on food, or from pieces of jewelry or clothing around the neck; risks of unintentional injuries that are inflicted by active kids at play. Anticipating and avoiding problems is always the first goal; next is being prepared and knowing what to do when a problem arises.”

Children of all ages need constant supervision for injury prevention. While caring for an infant, the babysitter must pay special attention to a sleeping position such that the infant is placed on their back during naps. While infants are largely immobile, it seems that they learn to move or roll while placed on a piece of furniture or on top of a counter.

Toddlers present a whole different set of precautions. First off, there is the necessity to understand and accept the absolute wanderlust of the toddler. Bottom line is that toddlers have no judgment. Since the toddler constantly challenges boundaries, the bathtub, street traffic and the neighborhood dog present risks for injury to a toddler. Any new toy, food, or piece of furniture is a chance for discovery. Whether the toddler decides to test the components of the environment by popping a foreign object in his or her mouth, or by lifting and throwing an object with hopes creating a large sound, or by tackling, conquering, climbing or chasing, the babysitter is responsible to keep up with the experience and ensure the safety of the child, other children and maybe even the living room window.

School age kids present a new set of risks. These kids have more freedom and autonomy than toddlers; however, supervision is still necessary. Injury prevention for this age group is dependant on monitoring activity. Risks for accidents at the pool demand consistent reminders to slow down near the pool and to keep play safe in the water. Social play among friends may become too rowdy. Bottom line is that kids do get hurt during play. Most of the time, the harmful event is unintentional. It is up to the babysitter to monitor play to keep kids safe.

In addition to the constant supervision of activity, the babysitter is the guardian of home safety. The BLAST course teaches kids the importance of locking doors and having rules for answering the phone or the front door while parents are away. Fire safety focuses on a clear understanding of procedures in case of a fire. Firefighters visiting the class present fire safety resources and offer a chance for discussion about rules in the event of a fire.

Finally, the class also introduces each student to Baby Alive. These anatomically correct dolls provide a learning tool to practice diaper changing and feeding skills. Mimicking a real infant, Baby Alive will consume a bottle of water and then provide the opportunity for the student to have the experience of discovering and changing a wet diaper.

The goal of BLAST is to promise the safety of kids at home while parents are away. But the added benefit is to help the babysitter by providing them with tools and guidelines for keeping kids safe. Mom and Dad deserve a night off and should only have to think about coming home when promised to get the babysitter home on time. By hiring a sitter that is BLAST certified, parents know their kids are safe while they are away. SFM

Julie Burton has raised both of her teenagers in Billings Her time is shared between attending high school sporting events, spending time with her family and working in community relations at Billings Clinic.