Q: My 12-year-old really wants to be a babysitter. I told her she has to wait until she is 13 and first take a Red Cross babysitting class. But I’m still worried about how having type 1 diabetes will affect her plans. Is it realistic to expect parents to leave children in my daughter’s care when she has a health condition that can require emergency attention?

A: Having diabetes should in no way restrict or limit someone’s life, and this includes the ability of a tween or teen to take part in the time-honored rite of babysitting. For most kids with type 1, the real question here is not if they can be left in charge of younger children, but when.

Taking a babysitting course is a good first step for any prospective sitter, but the real key to gauging your daughter’s readiness for this job is a frank evaluation of her maturity level. An effective way to gauge whether she’s capable of caring for other children and her diabetes is to take stock of how responsible she already is with her type 1 care. Is she willing and able to check her own blood sugar? Does she know how to respond to lows? And does she know when to reach out for help?

When you think your daughter is ready to babysit, work together to come up with strategies for handling her diabetes in this setting. Like most sitters, chances are her first customers will be families you already know. However, if this is not the case (i.e., the parents are “friends of friends” instead), she should let any prospective family know up front that she has type 1 diabetes. Depending on their comfort level and how long they will need to leave their children in her care, some parents will likely have questions and concerns. Your daughter may need to explain how she manages her blood sugar, offer a short trial run to reassure parents, or even come up with a plan to check her blood sugar when she arrives in order for the parents to see that her number is within range.

Some new babysitters “buddy up” during their first few jobs by babysitting with a friend. If your daughter knows someone from babysitting class who might make a good partner, this is a great opportunity for her to test run her self-management and get some experience under her belt, without completely going it alone. It’s also a chance for parents who may need a little convincing to feel comfortable having a babysitter with type 1.

So what’s your role in all this? Just like being available by phone or text when your daughter is at the mall with friends, being on call in case something goes wrong (or having a designated caregiver on call) serves as an extra layer of reassurance for everyone. When it’s time to babysit, run down a final checklist with her before she walks out the door. Does she have all her supplies, including a snack? Does she have a phone number to reach the parents in case of emergency? Does she have your cell phone number?

One more thing to consider: Before your daughter takes on too many clients, ask her if she would like to advertise her services to other families in the type 1 community. Think about it: Wouldn’t you have liked to find a sitter who was already well-versed in the ins and outs of testing, carb counts, and watching out for highs and lows? With just one well-placed sign at the diabetes clinic, your daughter may have her Saturday nights booked in no time.

–Michelle Dart, M.S.N., P.N.P., C.D.E., is a pediatric nurse practitioner and certified diabetes educator for the New York State Department of Health.

How Other Parents Deal

“Our 13-year-old with diabetes watches our 7-year-old for a few hours at a time whenever I go grocery shopping. If anything, I think having to be so responsible about her type 1 has made her more mature than others her age. Still, I don’t want to let her babysit for other families just yet — because I like her services too much!”

–Catarina M., mom of Anya

Related topics:
In the Spotlight: Hiring a Babysitter or Nanny
Giving Your Child More Freedom — the Safe Way
When Tweens Become Teens: Parental Guide Suggested
See more People in the Know questions and answers >

Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.