Bedtime punctuality enforcement. Vegetable-eating negotiation. Sibling conflict management.
You were a babysitter—but not just any babysitter: You were a professional. You were trained in child CPR, had perfected the stern babysitter voice, and knew how to make grilled cheese (with the crusts cut off, of course) like a boss!
You worked purely off referrals because you were that good. No, there was no flyer posting for you, my friend. Though you were probably jealous of your friends with the cool jobs (like serving as a lifeguard at the local pool), you learned a lot during your years of looking after other people's kids.
And, guess what? Some of what you’ve learned you’re applying to your current career, and you don’t even know it. Here are four not-so-obvious career lessons from your teenage babysitting jobs.
1. Tending to Toddler Tantrums Taught You How to Deal With Clients
Oh the terrible twos, and threes, and fours! As a babysitter, you were no stranger to dealing with full-blown meltdowns—including screaming bloody murder and rolling around on the floor, kicking and flailing in fits of rage. Where these pint-sized children got all that anger, we’ll never know. But when the little ones went all Exorcist on you, you knew that you just had to let it happen. As long as they didn’t hit their head whipping back during their most dramatic portrayals of toddler angst or punch their sibling in the process, you let them do their thing until they calmed down.
Sadly, not everyone outgrows throwing fits, as angry and complaining clients may remind you all too often. But you know that sometimes adults need to let off a little steam too. So you listen intently and let them vent. This gives them space to process their frustration and also feel cared for and heard, which diffuses the situation so you can move forward to a solution. Who knew toddler tantrums could teach you so much?
2. Bargaining With Tenacious Tots Taught You How to Handle Tough Negotiations
Remember trying to barter with a four-year-old? “Yes, you do need to wear pants when you go outside. Please, put your pants on. Please, put on your pants. Okay, okay, if you put on your pants, I'll let you have some ice cream after dinner. With chocolate sauce. And sprinkles. Whatever. As long as you put on your pants.”
Sure, this may have been more bribery than anything else, but it had all the elements of negotiation. You gave a little, you took a little, and everyone ended up happy—and clothed—in the end.
You can’t force anyone to do anything (not even the anti-pants toddler). You have to work to get what you need and want. Whether you’re asking for a better salary, a promotion, or a buy-in on your latest project, negotiating skills are essential. Thankfully, the debates and discussions you had with those difficult children equipped you with the skills to create win-win scenarios in work and business.
3. Mediating Familial Fights Taught You How to Handle Employee Conflicts
If you worked in a multi-child home, sometimes the siblings would fight. And when I say sometimes, I mean every. single. day. You learned that even the most minor misunderstandings could escalate quickly. “He breathed on me!” could launch the household into World War III. So you separated the parties involved, listened to both sides of the issue, led an airing of grievances that brought everyone to a mutual understanding, and then got on with the day.
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. People bring different values and opinions to the office, so there is bound to be some friction. You may not realize it, but moderating bouts of sibling rivalry gave you the hands-on experience to efficiently resolve conflict.
So, whether you are in the thick of the conflict yourself or notice a heated debate a few cubicles down, you know how to establish common ground by focusing everyone involved on why they’re there (hint: to do a great job).
4. Cleaning Up the Chaos Taught You to Be Accountable
It’s 9 PM. The kids are finally in bed, and you’re able to breathe a sigh of relief—until you realize it looks like a bomb went off. There are Lego landmines, bowls are crusted with mac and cheese, and someone put lipstick on the dog! You know the parents will be home in a couple of hours, so you begrudgingly get to work, cleaning up the epic mess the rugrats left in their wake.
Just like you cleaned up after those kids, you may have noticed that as a professional, you’ll need to correct other’s mistakes—whether it’s proofreading documents or apologizing on behalf of the company. Even though you might not be the one responsible for certain errors, you take accountability because you know that is the right, mature, and professional thing to do. And if you are responsible for the mistakes? You own up to it and fix them. Being accountable enhances your professional reputation and others’ trust in you.
No, you probably don’t want to go back to those teenage days—but you have to admit that your adventures in babysitting gave you a really great foundation for your career. Whether you were organizing activities or enforcing bedtime, you were—and still are—the consummate professional.