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1. Be Flexible

When you’re planning your babysitting co-op days, things are going to come up, especially with younger kids. Nap schedules change and there might be family emergencies to handle. You might need to shift times around, for example, when one of the kids goes from two naps a day to one. Other weeks it’s just plain not going to work out, and I think that expecting these kinds of snags upfront makes it a lot easier when they happen. Remember: you are each doing the other a favor.

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photo by Lauren Hammond

2. Establish Clear Time Frames

This might sound like a no-brainer to some of you, but it’s worth mentioning. Make sure that both families agree on specific pick-up and drop-off times. A babysitting co-op is a relationship, and you need to respect the other parent’s time. Obviously, things come up (see #1), but in general showing up on time to drop your child off and pick him up is essential to keeping everyone happy. If a real emergency does arise, make sure to call the other parent right away and let her know what’s up and how long you will be.

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photo by Haylee Sherwood

3. Start Slowly

If your kid doesn’t go to daycare or school, it might take a few weeks before he can be separated from you for the full amount of time. Maybe start with one to two hours, to see how your child does. You also want to keep your cell phone on you in case the other mom needs you to come back early, especially during those first weeks.

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photo by Riley Kaminer

4. Talk Food

Are you raising your child vegan? Does the other child in your co-op have a food allergy? Definitely make sure you’re clear on what each kid can and can’t eat. One thing that I’ve learned is that these kids are going to eat each other’s snacks. You can’t stop them, so it’s best to pack snacks that adhere to both children’s dietary restrictions. If that seems daunting, talk to the other mom involved! The key to a successful co-op is communication, and the two of you can brainstorm some snack ideas.

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photo by Becky Striepe

5. Pack a Good Bag

This applies to both babysitting co-ops and to daycare. Pack a well-stocked bag, and make sure the other parent knows where everything is. You can even label the pockets to make it easy to find things. Here’s what I pack in my 14-month-old’s bag:

  • one diaper per hour – This probably seems like overkill, but it’s better to have some diapers leftover than to run out!
  • small cooler – Cram some snacks in here. I stick one bottle per two hours and a couple of extra snacks in here. Better to send too much food than force the other mom to dig through her fridge.
  • change of clothes – Send an extra diaper cover and a change of pants and top. If it’s cold, you’ll also want to throw a jacket, hat, and spare pair of socks in there.
  • one lovey – Think of this as an emergency measure. If your kiddo bumps his head and needs comfort, the other mom can give him his favorite toy to help him calm down.

This is the checklist that seems to work for my kid. You might discover other essentials that makes things run smoothly as you go, too!

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photo by Mads Boedker

6. Pick the Right Play Area

Choosing the right room in your house is important, especially during the initial weeks. If you’re not used to watching an extra child, it can be overwhelming at first. Go with a well-childproofed room, so that you don’t have to worry about watching both kids like a hawk 100 percent of the time.

Once you’re more used to watching two children and to the other child’s play style, you can branch out and let them play in different areas. It might only take an hour or two for you to get comfortable letting them roam a bit. It might take a few weeks. Having a safe place makes your life a lot easier.

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photo by Kourtlyn Lott

7. Don’t Send a Sick Kid

If your child has the sniffles, a fever, or a mystery rash, call the other family in the co-op as soon as possible. Let the other parent decide whether your kid’s sniffles sound like they’re teething-related or a cold. You wouldn’t want someone exposing your child to something contagious, right? This “do unto others” thinking is the cornerstone of a successful babysitting co-op.

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photo by Frederic de Villamil

8. Have Fun

This list might make it sound like a babysitting co-op is all work and no play, but that’s not true at all! It’s a joy to watch my kid play and explore with another child!

Your kids also share knowledge, which is pretty magical to witness. I remember my child staring engrossed as his buddy drank water from a sippy cup. That evening, my guy finally mastered the sippy cup. Play is an important part of learning, and a babysitting co-op is an opportunity for your child to branch out in his own play.

Do any of you swap childcare with another family? I’d love to hear how you are making your babysitting co-op work!

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