Don't be surprised if the baby-sitter you hire for an evening comes prepared for anything--even an earthquake. She'll likely know how to take your child's temperature and what to do if he chokes on a cracker.
She might bring her own personalized box of toys to divert your child's attention when you walk out the door. She may be skilled in bedtime diplomacy.
Baby-sitting isn't what it used to be--simply knowing how to change a diaper and pop a bottle in a baby's mouth. It's gone high-tech, and more kids than ever are enrolling in baby-sitting classes offered in Ventura County. The classes, given throughout the year, are usually packed, and some have waiting lists, instructors report.
The minimum age for most classes is 11, generally the age children begin baby-sitting. Some classes meet for just one session, while others are much more extensive and include training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The students learn first aid and what to do if a fire breaks out. They know that toddlers can choke on hot dogs, carrots and balloons. They also learn a bit about what makes little kids tick.
At the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, registered nurse Karon Carpenter teaches a 90-minute class on four consecutive Fridays. It starts with the basics: how to talk to parents, the sitter's customers.
"You can't knock on the door and not be able to communicate," Carpenter said. Her first homework assignment is an interview with a parent and prospective baby-sitting client to find out the ages of the children and what would be expected of the sitter.
Carpenter discusses baby-sitting fees--the going rate in Simi Valley is about $2 an hour--but she also advises her students to be flexible and reasonable.
Many of the children in her classes are there because they will be baby-sitting for younger siblings. Even so, they should be paid the going rate, she said, or compensated somehow by their parents.
She grounds them in the baby-sitting basics: Find out where the parents are going and how to get in touch with them.
"It's amazing how many parents go out the door and don't give that information," Carpenter said.
They should lock the door behind the parents and close the blinds or curtains. They should never open the door to a stranger, nor should they tell callers they are alone with the children.
Callers should be advised that the parent can't come to the telephone but that they may leave a message. "Most people calling know what that means," she said.
The students get a smattering of child psychology in the classes. They learn about children's self-esteem, discipline and what toys or play is appropriate for which age group.
Using dolls, Carpenter teaches her charges how to handle babies--bathing them and changing diapers, both disposable and cloth.
Carpenter even has an answer for dealing with a child who balks at bedtime.
"Don't make a big deal out of it," Carpenter said. "If they're not tired, it's all right for them to stay in their room with the light on."
She advises sitters to straighten up the house so that it is at least as tidy as it was when they arrived. Carpenter also has some advice for parents.
Most baby-sitters judge their jobs by the food available in the house, not by the pay, she said surveys have shown.
"You're a winner if you have something with chocolate and some soda," she said.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Locations of baby-sitting classes in the county include:
* Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, Sycamore Drive Community Center, 1692 Sycamore Drive, Simi Valley. Starting March 1, four consecutive Fridays, 3:45 to 5:15 p.m. Fee $16. For information and to sign up, call 584-4400.
* Community Memorial Hospital of San Buenaventura, 147 N. Brent St., Ventura. April 10, 8:30 a.m. to noon. Fee $5. Call 652-5013.
* Los Robles Regional Medical Center, 215 W. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. March 12 and 13, 4 to 5:30 p.m. No cost. Call 379-5586.
* St. John's Regional Medical Center, 333 North F St., Oxnard. One session June 26, 27 and 28; another Aug. 28, 29 and 30; 1 to 4 p.m. Includes CPR certification. Fee $30. Call 988-2865.
* Pleasant Valley Hospital, 2309 Antonio Ave., Camarillo. March 5, 4 to 5:30 p.m. Fee $3. Call 388-1583.