Safe Sitter class teaches kids how to safely babysit

pseligson@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2014 

As six teens looked on, instructor Alicia Van Camp told the doll to “cough, baby, cough.”

Van Camp waited and then told her students the baby doll was not coughing. Next, she extended her legs like a ramp and carefully placed the baby doll on its stomach, then began thumping its back to dislodge the imaginary food.

The scene was part of a two-day Safe Sitter class that Johnston Health offered last week in Smithfield. The class aims to help babysitters keep themselves and the kids in their care safe, said Lori Martin, director of education for Johnston Health.

Safe Sitter is a national program started in 1980 by Dr. Patricia Keener of Indianapolis. A toddler in the emergency department where Keener worked died because the babysitter didn’t know how to save the child from choking. Johnston Health has been offering the class since 1991.

The class, designed for boys and girls ages 11 to 13, teaches four topics: safety for babysitters, safety for the children in their care, basic first aid and how to prevent problem behaviors.

“The goal is safe babysitting,” Martin said. “It’s to teach responsibility and have a babysitter that’s knowledgeable and safe and to help the kids really understand the responsibility they’re taking on.”

“It’s so helpful,” said Caroline Crockett, 14, of Clayton. “You get more of a feel to help when you babysit.”

Caroline said she especially wanted to learn how to help a child suffering an allergic reaction. “The more experience I have, the more people will want to take me as a babysitter,” she said.

The class teaches when to call 911, how to perform CPR, how to treat basic injuries such as scrapes, how to change a diaper and more. Students also take home a textbook they can reference for a number of babysitting topics.

The mantra throughout the course is “stay calm, stay safe, provide comfort,” Martin said.

Problem behaviors include a child throwing a temper tantrum or becoming angry and holding his breath. The class shows babysitters how to remain calm and reason with the child. “A 2-year-old is going to be a 2-year-old,” Martin said.

Katherine Strickland, 12, of Pine Level was excited to learn how to perform CPR and help a child who was choking. “(The course) is really helpful,” she said. “I’m enjoying it very much.”

Sara Brewer, 12, of Wendell decided to come after her sister took the course and recommended it. “I’m hoping to learn what to do in any kind of emergency,” she said.

Sara also wanted to learn what to do if a child didn’t listen to her. She learned to stay calm and, if the kids she is babysitting make her uncomfortable or afraid, to call their parents.

Instructors also recommend having a responsible adult less than five minutes away in case something went wrong.

Another topic was safety for the babysitters, including what to do if they smell gas, or if the lights go out, or if something catches fire.

The students looked through their textbooks for answers and walked through situations with the instructors. “The course is very interactive,” Martin said. “There are various little games the kids play and you have them ... ask questions and have them find the answers in the book.

“They’re learning to use their resources while reinforcing the information themselves.”

Johnston Health offers the course every year, sometimes as a two-day class like this year, other times as a one-day class. Johnston Health will offer the class again July 15-16. The $65 fee covers the textbook, lunch and all other materials. To sign up, call Kim Thompson at 919-938-7736.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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